The studio rests six stories high. On top of an old steam heater a fan drones in an open window. Clyde sleeps on a black futon that sits on the floor. He sleeps under a thick Central American bed cover his ex-girlfriend gave him.
It took a semester in the dorms, but he’d finally he managed to break up with her. It’s been a whole year now and he has established his own space. On the floor to his left there is a cup with olive oil in it.
Suddenly radio from the clock fills the room. Clyde tosses around. Time passes. He gets up and walks into his closet past kitty litter which is full with land mines of shit.
He moves through the closet and into the bathroom past the sink, which he calls the throat. He gets into the shower and cleans the shlock off his Irish wee-wee. Somehow, Clyde has no idea he is predominantly Irish.
It’s the summer. His fifty-four-hour work week is nearing an end. Today is one of his three eight- hour days. His high school friend John Randy is going to pick him up after work. They are going to catch a Phish concert at some theater in Delaware.
This morning, Clyde hits the tape deck and jams to Big Audio Dynamite in the apartment. He likes Mick Jones from the Clash and how he veers toward R+B and diversity in this music.
He attacks fruit out of his refrigerator drawers. The roaches dash over his kitchen table. He puts some water on the stove and prepares sugar-free hot chocolate. The roaches are crazy busy and of various sizes this morning.
Clyde used to have to spray one roach at a time. He’d spray for minutes and finally the roach would roll over on its back and die in the pool of chemicals left behind. A neighbor had suggested this particular black jack spray. Clyde bought it from the Sikh man’s convenience store.
As Clyde uses the spray on the table and around the kitchen area the roaches quickly die. He notices that his cat is watching him. Then he fills his hot chocolate takes a sip and spits out a roach. Once again, he has forgotten to check the clump of chocolate at the top of the cocoa before he sips.
When ready for the day, Clyde takes the stair well two stairs at a time. It takes some dexterity. Rarely does he encounter any one who comments about the noise his descending of the stairs in this manner makes.
Once out the glass doors of the decay of Pierre Apartments, he crosses Cooper Street shaking his head.
Gwendolyn is at the corner by the pay phone. This past winter every time they encountered each other they would both be underdressed for the cold. Now, in the summer, she sips beer from a bagged can. and comes at him with a masculine handshake. “What’s wrong today kid.”
Clyde loves the way Gwendolyn always inserts herself and commands respect even though he never remembers to use her name. He doesn’t suspect that she used to be a nurse. Nor does he get that she too had been put out of her house at an early age. Gwendolyn lives in the complex across the street that always has people coming in and out of it at all hours of the day.
“The roaches are bad this morning, I think the neighbors bombed their room. Does that ever happen to you?”
“Oh, we wouldn’t let there be roaches on our building.”
Clyde lives in the drug free complex and doesn’t understand. He presumes all complexes in the area have roaches.
Sure. he has studied social welfare from a suburban adjunct professor but there is still a lot about his surroundings that he doesn’t understand.
Hi professor had educated the class about what it’s like to be on welfare through assigning offensive books. Many of the students announced that they had been on welfare themselves and challenged his perspective and his choice of books. A few white women would concur with him.
One time the professor had asked the students if they gave money to the pan handlers down town.
“Why not?” he exclaimed, just in love with his power.
As clueless as his professor proved to be, Clyde doesn’t yet understand the concept of cash money even though he gets paid in it. He doesn’t imagine that when there is traffic coming in and out of a complex there is probably heaps of cash money changing hands, unlaundered money that can, with the right neighborhood connections, be used to control the roach problem. All he understands is that he gets angry when the people coming in and out of Gwendolyn’s complex call him Where’s Waldo.
Clyde crosses the parking lot for the dorms and passes a gleaming glass building before arriving at the small minimart. He is opening this morning and his coworker is closing. His boss arrives and unlocks the shutters so Clyde throws them up.
Before he turns the radio on to the local R+B radio station, he hears his boss muttering “Docy, Docy, Docy.” as he carries out his routines. Some might think he was muttering in Korean, but Clyde knows that he is remembering his mentors on the grill Doc and Ray. His boss admired Doc even though Doc cursed him to everyone he knew for taking advantage of Docs connects.
Doc had educated Clyde about how his mother had to lock him out of the house so he would learn how to fight and face the neighborhood beat down without running. Doc would smile at Clyde when he listened and lectured about exploitation. Doc had mentored his current coworker and friend, Craig G not to use the needle.
Doc knew he wasn’t getting paid enough for his long hours and left the job. Clyde had heard that when he stopped working, he went on a crack binge.
Clyde had really ended up liking Doc’s friend Ray who had been very direct with him upon first meeting. “Don’t worry Clyde, you can’t help it if you are an asshole, you were just raised that way.”
On one of Clyde’s first evenings closing the store, Ray had manipulated him to drive him to a friend’s house where he could cop. He’d only done it once. He also tested Clyde out by telling him about his sexual exploits with white women. When Clyde had continued to be cool with Ray, he would accept the role of being Clyde’s mentor on the grill. “Clyde, you have to work smarter not harder,” Ray would exclaim. Ray also gave Clyde the nickname, “Nervous Norton.”
Clyde admired Ray’s fifty-four hour a week work ethic, his wit, and how he had his weight under control. He treated Ray as a surrogate father until Ray left the job with Doc.
His boss used to build airplanes for a Korean Army, but came to America for a better life. Nobody except Clyde likes the boss because he has an educated air. Clyde likes that he is reliable and fair with his work routines. Clyde believes a part of his boss feels bad for the way he’d treated Doc and thus the muttering.
Sometimes his boss grabs his thin arms and crunches the bones and biceps. Then he says, “Clyde, don’t hesitate!” Clyde thinks he knows perfectly well what the boss is trying to communicate and accepts what his boss is getting at and yet somehow fails to give a fuck.
Clyde likes his boss a lot better than the owner. Craig G and all the neighborhood kids like the Korean owner. The owner is big, muscular, and shares his hunting hobby with all who will listen. He used to be gangster until he got married. In Asian gangs Clyde will one day learn, it is customary to leave the gang when you get married.
At first meeting, the owner had let Clyde know that he was easy to pick on. However, the owner stopped when Clyde showed sharp attitude about his compliance with handling the store Glock. All he had to do was let the owner know he wasn’t about to shoot anyone for four dollars per hour and the owner left him alone.
Clyde makes it a habit to pack those sandwiches with extra meat especially the tuna and chicken salad. The owner’s wife makes the salads and gets really angry. Clyde just ignores all the feedback.
Clyde knows that it is because of his attitude that the boss always tells him that Craig G is a better worker than him as if Clyde would care. The boss thinks such comments will curb Clyde’s behavior.
Clyde resents the fact that the stale cereal is sold for seven dollars a box. Clyde thinks the owner is leeching money out of the poor black and brown neighborhood. The deli sandwiches are the only affordable way to eat, and it is an expensive way to live. Clyde has seen the movie “Do the Right Thing!” by Spike Lee.
He contrasts the suburban houses that he imagines the owner lives in with the studio where he and other neighborhood people live. He thinks how there are no grocery stores for any of the kids who live in Camden. They have to drive thirty minutes out of the city to even get to a supermarket. He knows most of the mom-and-pop stores have high prices. Many of the kids in the city had to survive off of Ramin Pride.
As Clyde prepares the condiments for the afternoon rush, he thinks of the first kid he trained to work at the deli. This kid took him to the movies and taught him how to sneak into different theaters. When the kid finally found something that he liked, they’d settled in. The kid only lasted a few months and then went off to the crack trade. That kid was very socially skilled and knew how to connect congenially with Clyde like no other.
Still, Clyde hopes that he will make stronger connections with kids he knows from the neighborhood when they work here. He prays that they will like working with him and Craig G more than the lure of ready rock.
And yet when he hears about the white kids that commute into the city to take classes, talk poor, and boast how they steal from his boss, it somehow pisses him off worse.
Once he heard a frat brother who he’d taken a writing class with calling him out of his name, “Hey do you ever wonder how much change the panhandlers get out of Clyde Dee?”
Clyde thinks about how in reality no one asks him for change. He carries his cash in his sock with a dollar or two in his wallet. The very few occasions he’s been threatened he has donated a dollar or two to avoid a beat down.
In the store the customers treat him like he is family. One told him he was down with the brown. Another told customer told him of a local mechanic who was flaco like him. Flaco means thin in Spanish, but it’s also known as a cool nickname amongst players. The customers had a lot of love for Clyde and the community made him feel much less alone.
When commuting students like the frat boy comes down here and judge the locals according to stereotypes, it becomes hard for Clyde to befriend them.
Clyde has only made one close friend. He is ten years older and is in recovery from polysubstance abuse.
Clyde thinks his friend gets a little manic when he talks. His friend’s best friend is on the Philadelphia police force. He calls his friend a bad lieutenant in the police force. This bad lieutenant funds his friend’s education and expenses in return for under the table surveillance work. Clyde’s friend is also a writer. Some of his work, when he isn’t using vocabulary that makes him sound like Henry James, carries the tone of a mafia flick. He has introduced Clyde to many mafia flicks, but Clyde still doesn’t understand.
Even Clyde’s friend can misunderstand the neighborhood. For example, he accuses Clyde Dee and Craig G of listening to “gangster rap” in the deli. And he made a big deal once about the fact that his co-worker took care of him when he ordered a sandwich. Clyde thinks he misunderstands Craig G.
Craig G shows up after an hour once the grill and kitchen are set up. Clyde and Craig give each other the neighborhood hand shake and Craig straps on the apron the same way Clyde wears it. Craig G developed this style of wearing the apron and everyone follows suit.
Craig disappears into the bathroom and when he comes out Clyde is in the back getting a clean tub to fill with mayonnaise. Craig chuckles, “You ever notice when its your own shit, it never stinks!”
Clyde who has never had to take a crap on that can retorts, “Oh your lucky it wasn’t me in there.”
Craig pulls out the tape Clyde loaned him and says, “You’ve got a hold of some slamming new jams on this one.”
Once last summer Craig came out of the can at closing time and showed Clyde a bone. Clyde figured he was offering to share it with Clyde.
Clyde shrugged, and expressed no interest with his face.
It was the only time Craig offered.
Craig never seemed to judge Clyde for his refusal.
Clyde went ahead and loaned him his backpack and ID so he could sneak into the University Gym. Last summer when he had acquiesced to get back with his girlfriend, Craig had given him a condom and said it’d be good if he finally got lucky. They had gone to an amusement park together, an event that made Clyde’s girlfriend exceedingly jealous.
Craig puts the BDP Sex and Violence tape in the deck and hit play. Clyde listens to the bass and familiar beat. Customers start to come in in waves and Craig and Clyde take and fill orders. Clyde ponders and learns intermittently from the lyrics . . .
Black drug dealer, you have to rise up and organize your business so that we can rise up
If you are gonna sell crack than don’t be a fool, organize your business and open up a school . . .
Or invest in a Prison, therefore you can be put in it. Everyone else did this and now they chillin
Above the law while you are under the law and still killin
Wake up my African brother, my Hispanic brother. America ain’t your mother or your father so don’t bother with right or wrong
Just check out the logic in the song . . .
In the thirties and forties the drug dealer wasn’t black; they were Jewish, Irish, Polish Italian ectcetera ectcetera, and they were making their lives a lot better . . .
Organize, legalize, legitimize your business, remember everybody else did this
Clyde had first heard about KRS-One, the rapper, in sociology class. The black professor had said that KRS-One and Cool Moe Dee had been homeless and been able to create this music with almost no resources. Then, Craig had played his first album, Criminal Minded, at work.
Oddly, this latest album came from John Randy. KRS-One had played a concert at his white liberal college from which he dropped out. John had passed on the tape to Clyde earlier that summer. Clyde thinks it is a hell of a lot better than that Phish music John Randy is so crazy about.
This summer, Craig had borrowed his car and returned it with the gas full and invited Clyde into North Camden to ball with him and his boys. Clyde felt good about the real friendship and it was important to him.
One morning Craig G came in traumatized after hiding out all night in an abandoned building. He had been at a doughnut shop with his boys and there was some kind of confrontation. He’d had to run and hide out in an abandoned building.
Another time Craig had cut himself on the slicer and Clyde has taken him to emergency.
Clyde liked being there for Craig and it had helped them bond.
In a few years Clyde will be visiting John Randy at his parent’s shore house one night when John will get lit. Clyde will feel like John will be a bit racist, exclaiming to his father in front of his proper friends about getting picked up by a black man from Camden. Then Clyde will discover the black man is Craig G who will clearly be drubbling high on heroin.
Craig will be dating a white-women from Camden who had a scholarship to attend John and Clyde’s private school in Moorestown New Jersey.
The white girl will exclaim she can now learn all about her new boyfriend from Clyde.
She will only get the seal of his smiling lips.
It will be funny how much Clyde will realize that he’s changed
In about three years, Craig’s mentor, someone Clyde will presume to be his NA sponsor, will recognize Clyde when he will work in a Pennsauken video store and organize a reunion. Craig will have a union job and Clyde will presume he has beaten back smack. He will be so happy for him.
Craig G has a smile and general look like Tupac. He attracts a lot of women. At the amusement park they went to the year before, women kept giving him their number like he was a celebrity.
Craig is always hooking up with girls in the dorm. Even though Clyde is too shy to even think about a date, Craig always treats him respectfully. He has introduced Clyde to his main girlfriend and his best friend too. Clyde hooked them up with some real generous sandwiches.
The boss often polls the female customers about which worker in the store is most attractive and Craig always wins. One time the boss said he talked to a woman who had put Clyde first. He had grabbed Clyde arms squeezing his bones and muscles together: “Don’t hesitate!” he had repeated.
Craig G is not the only local of Clyde’s generation who educates Clyde about the lives that locals live. One day, Julio’s brother has come to meet Clyde and told him about the graphic violence he’d gotten caught up in at a club one night. Julio’s married sister was one of Clyde’s neighbors in Pierre Apartments. She has invited Clyde into her apartment and been really friendly.
Julio, one of the kids who works here, always comes at Clyde with a lot of aggression calling him a “Geiser” (or crack addict.) Also, he calls Clyde a “pus.” Julio makes it a habit to punch him while he is working on the grill.
One evening later on that Fall, Clyde will get fed up with Julio’s behavior and will agree to a fight after work. The boss will officiate and Clyde will wrestle Julio to the ground enough to demonstrate his physical dominance. Then, one fairly beaten, Julio will get up and give Clyde a unfettered knee in the balls.
Unable to speak for five minutes Clyde eventually will manage to call Julio a punk and a coward. The boss will look startled by this and clearly will not know what to do. Julio will just laugh and talk trash like Muhammad Ali.
Soon thereafter, Julio will show up at Clyde’s door step with his cousin and older brother. They will take him to the YMCA pool for a swim.
Clyde will go home after the swim and write a paper that his teacher will want to put up for a prize. Of course, Clyde will decline. He will only use the opportunity to try to make the teacher feel stupid. He hates teachers,
Clyde and Craig work the grill, the sandwich bar, and the pizza oven as the work starts to pick up. At noon the kid Angelo comes in and gives them each the neighborhood hand shake.
Angelo lives with his grandmother and is the oldest child to a woman who appears to be Developmentally Delayed. Clyde’s ex-girlfriend used to dote on him while she gave the neighborhood kids candy. She thought he was a cute and well-behaved boy. He had given his ex-girlfriend the biggest smiles and most sincere looks.
But currently, working with Angelo is a different story. Clyde sees another side of Angelo. Without having the benefit of a father figure, Angelo tends to get mad and bite back when told to do something. There are times he gets the job done and at times he goofs off.
Craig has just a little more patience with Angelo’s willful defiance yet rarely engages him. Clyde gets more frustrated. Thus, with Angelo, Clyde tries to step back and model Craig G’s tone.
Clyde used to work with this kid named Jose and had a much easier time. It’s true that Clyde already had a relationship with Jose having traveled with him to Pyne Point Park to help coach his baseball team. Clyde had known that Jose’s stepfather favored his younger brother and that Jose needed a little extra support.
When Jose had worked with Clyde, he had done everything right and there had been no disrespect. Since he quit, the neighborhood kids had all gossiped about him. Apparently, his step-father had sent him away to some mental health facility.
Today, Angelo directs himself to the walk in and stocks the shelves without comment. He also does the dishes in the back sink and takes the trash out. The lunch rush comes steadily for a few hours. When it thins Clyde and Craig take turns making deliveries. Then Craig leaves at two to return at four to close the store
At this point Angelo announces that he’s going to take his lunch. He walks to the front of the store and picks up a pornographic magazine and sits near Clyde. As Clyde slices meats, he flips through the pages sucking on his teeth and making a lot of delighted noises.
“Hey Angelo, you’re a little young to be checking out those magazines in front of customer,” says Clyde.
Angelo ignores Clyde with provocative expressions of delight.
The boss hears this and puts down his own pornographic magazine which is hidden inside a Korean Newspaper. He strides over from his perch at the cash register with his bullet proof vest on and looks at Angelo.
“No, that is bad,” he says, “You have to put that away right now!”
The Campus and City police come in frequently to fill their coffee or soda for free. All the neighbors point and whisper when the vice squad comes in. “They are the true bad guys,” a customer had once told Clyde. It will take Clyde decades of living to make sense of and understand these dynamics.
The only day Clyde didn’t see police abusing their power was the time the boss got held up at gun point and the owner showed up drunk with an arsenal of hardware. They were too afraid to come get free coffee that night.
Clyde can’t help but feel some judgement towards Angelo, the boss, and the police. What a fucked-up world they are all living in.
When Julio comes in for his shift and punches him and called him a Geiser, Clyde feels relief. Somehow, he stresses about Angelo’s morals and ability to survive the streets. He doesn’t know what to do.
The one-time Clyde will get his car window shattered, Angelo will come and tell him that Jose did it. Clyde will talk to Jose and easily discern that it was likely Angelo who broke the window. Whoever smelt it delt it. Sometime, Clyde fears, Angelo is going to get in trouble for pulling a stunt like that on the streets.
It will not occur to Clyde until many years later that he will have missed an opportunity to help Angelo out.
Clyde listens to the patter of the rain against the tarp above him. It’s an exceedingly gray day and he is sitting on the cement table and chair outside the mini mart. A mini-van rolls up along the narrow street.
When Clyde realizes it’s John Randy, he wonders how John ended up with a mini-van. The door slides open and Clyde recognizes a kid he used to know from grade school and a girl from his graduating class along with two other non-descript white twenty-year-old males.
Clyde’s hair is slicked back with gel. He is wearing a black Marlboro work-tee-shirt, his two- toned florescent green shorts, and his old-school white and black Converses. He doesn’t even think about the fact he smells like the deli.
The front seat is open and Clyde demurs a moment. Then, against his better judgement he opens the front door and climbs in.
His old grade school acquaintance is extremely friendly and catches up with Clyde in a graceful manner. Clyde has heard he is in construction, not school.
Clyde remembers sitting at the table in the grade school library with this guy and talking about war. “Better to kill them than have them kill you,” this guy had exclaimed.
Those were the days when Clyde had clout and confidence, back when he was formulating his pacifist philosophy.
Junior high had turned this kid into a metalhead and a part of the crowd that excluded Clyde. The kid’s favorite band had been Judas Priest.
Clyde tries to be friendly right back at him; however, he notices he is self-conscious. He does not feel grounded and in-the-zone the way he does when he is working with Craig G.
John Randy drives and the van is quickly over the bridge and on the interstate.
One of the nondescript males keeps talking about the dangers of Delaware cops. It seems very important to him that he is going to do something to break the law.
Yeah, yeah, thinks Clyde, Delaware cops are strict big whoop. This asshole needs to get over himself.
Before long John Randy pulls over on the interstate. John runs over to some bush in a wet green pasture and starts taking a leak. Clyde climbs over to the driver’s seat. Clyde learns they are driving the family van of a school associate. The family is on vacation and Clyde doubts they would approve of this expedition.
John Randy is still out urinating on the bush. Clyde feels he has unwittingly been had again. Now he is the designated driver of a stolen vehicle. The crew talks in the back and John is still urinating. They had all been fools to let John drive at all. No one else seems the least bit concerned about the danger that this posed! And the urination continues.
When John finally gets back into the van, Clyde focuses on his role as a designated driver. The crew is blazing weed and drinking in the back. Through the rearview mirror, Clyde spies the girl who graduated High School with him inhale.
Clyde still can’t help but get anxious when he thinks about the blaze of weed. He decided early on that he was not going to be pressured into doing any such thing, ever. Still, the fact that he has to stand out pumps up his anxiety.
He often thinks about how people have died smuggling her that weed she is inhaling! He knows how well these cohorts were treated in the insulated private school they attended. His father and mother were teachers at the school they attended. His father was a top administrator.
Clyde feels all the students at his school had it so easy. He feels this way especially since he has moved to Camden. Every time he sees his cohorts from that school all he sees is that they always want more.
Clyde doesn’t think about how this girl who inhaled had a mother who was a secretary at the school and how she was also (like Clyde) a scholarship kid. She may well have problems like he has! No, Clyde just thinks and thinks about how greedy it is to partake in what is essentially a slave business.
People like the kids will go to jail so the likes of he and his cohorts can be enthralled with no consequences.
As Clyde fumes, his cohorts coincidentally start to criticize his driving. Perhaps they can sense his judgments. Clyde remembers John Randy taking him to a house party back when he lived with him during his senior year. When Clyde started to fulfill his role as a designated driver, John Randy exclaimed that he was driving like an asshole. Clyde really didn’t know what this meant. Is this how all sober people get treated, or just him?
Now Clyde has to get off at an exit to fill the tank. The problem is that everyone has pitched negative energy his way. Some start directing him toward different exits to get off the interstate. Clyde can’t think. When he finally gets off there is no gas station to be found.
He gets on a road that heads the wrong direction and decides he’ll save time and make a k turn. The problem is that he is used to driving a stick. He instinctively reaches down to put the car into reverse and gropes at the air. Car headlights head towards him while he searches for the transmission lever to put the car in reverse. He jams on the gas and the van peals out backwards. Now everybody is laughing and criticizing his driving. Clyde is very distressed.
Drunken John, somehow realizes he has to calm Clyde. He steps up and directs him to a gas station.
When Clyde finally arrives at the stadium, the dark clouds are moving into dusk. The parking lot is full of tailgating hippies. Clyde is entertained with odd sights of funk. There are a ton of white kids his own age from sleep away colleges that he is not used to seeing.
He follows along while his eyes drink in the scene. There are no sport teams that he knows of in Delaware but the stadium is sizable. He is afraid he will be seen as just another damn hippie amongst the crowd without any awareness that he stands out like he is Where’s Waldo different.
Inside the stadium they find seats.
Looking out the stadium through the cemented exit walls, he can see hippies who must be jumping on trampolines. They are silhouetted against the dusky skyline. Clyde watches as every time they bounce up, they strike a different pose. There is water spray that is just barely visible surrounding them though he cannot see where it is coming from.
He can’t help thinking of the parents of these lost souls and wondering what they think of their kid’s lifestyles. This fills Clyde with a sense of sadness.
It will be eight years later when Clyde will learn that hippies use spray like that to get people on trips. LSD is something he should know more about. His grandfather was the head of the Harvard psychology department that hired Timothy Leary.
Many decades later Clyde will learn that his grandfather presided over the same department that conducted mind-control experiments on the likes of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber,) Whitey Bulger (South Bostin’s Irish Kingpin) Ken Keasy (musician in the Grateful Dead) and Robert Hunter, (Author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.) This clandestine program was entitled MKULTRA.
All his mother had told him that his grandfather had done some work for the CIA.
Clyde has learned that Phish formed at the University of Vermont. He can’t help but like the look of the lead singer and guitarist as he is clearly talented. However, as the night wears on the music gets stranger, more intoxicated and psychedelic. At one point John Randy leaves his seat and joins the crowd that is standing close to the stage. Clyde hears one of the others say that John is on an acid trip.
Toward the end of the show as Clyde is getting tired. He has found the long riffs self-indulgent and the psychedelic screech of a violin bow on a steel guitar just sound just plain stupid.
Clyde often looks out the exits as the hippies trampolining in the mist. They are now harder to see against the dark sky. They remain silhouetted by the exit lights. He finds himself looking at his watch frequently. He can’t wait to get going.
Back at the minivan, Clyde continues to think about how stupid everything is.
If he were a cop, he would just perch himself outside the stadium and pull over these badly behaving white kids and cart them of to jail. He starts to imagine the amount of DUIs and drug busts that could quash hippy glory.
All these white kids are allowed to come out and talk tough about evading Delaware cops and risk marks on their permanent record, but it’s all so fake.
Clyde reasons that the police are not allowed to target them. The promoters probably pay the cops off. Clyde thinks if it was found that the band was causing arrests to happen there would be less money to be made and it would be bad for business. He thinks of the neighborhood kids back in Camden and how the lure of the crack trade results in death and imprisonment. The whole scene just makes Clyde so angry.
As he drives out the parking lot John Randy is in the back getting a lot of love and support from the crew. Clyde is tense. He watches the stadium fade out of his side window as he follows signs back to the interstate.
As Clyde drives, he thinks of his ex-girlfriend who would agree with him about the stupidity of this summer evening. It is the only thing he really misses about her.
His mind flashes to the time she got mad at him and threw a milkshake against his windshield. It hit the windshield like the thud of all her attacks.
The attacks would start when she would get mad at him for leaving her Christmas morning to celebrate with his family. Months and months of the silence treatment would ensue. Clyde had found it very hard to be treated in that manner. Clyde remembered how he would often end up in tears after sex. She would be on top and he wouldn’t understand his own reaction. She would yell at him like he was her drunken father. It wasn’t until he needed to leave that shit got really bad.
Leaving her has been so hard. Everyone she knows hounds him about her resulting depression and sadness. It has been ongoing for over a year. The neighborhood was definitely on her side. Meanwhile, she stalked him and sat beneath his apartment window many nights.
Clyde listens to the crowd mingle midst the smell of alcohol and reefer. As the party starts to die down John Randy makes his way up to the passenger seat and keeps Clyde company.
Clyde thinks of the way John shamed him describing his father’s devastated look when Clyde was in the hospital. He remembered how John came at him for no reason and tackled him and held him down during the year they lived together. He remembered most recently how John had shamed him for leaving his ex-girlfriend.
“What’s on your mind John Randy?” says Clyde
“Not much Clyde Ryan!”
It’s been a long time since Clyde’s heard his real last name.
John looks out at the refinery lights and talks about them in a peaceful manner.
Clyde is reminded his favorite Bruce Springsteen music. A song from the Nebraska album starts to ring in his ear:
Mister state trooper, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me . . .
New Jersey Turnpike, driving on a wet night, neath the refinery’s glow, where the deep dark river flows . . .
License registration, I ain’t got none. But I have a clear conscience about the things that I done.
Clyde remembers that John is tripping on acid. He reflects back what John is saying and comments. There is a long pause.
John has an artistic side and can be very creative. Plus, he knows what Clyde likes.
Then, somehow in unison they exclaim to each other: “Who is your Daddy!”
This loosens the tension in Clyde’s shoulders. He and John have known each other since they were three years old.
Once in kindergarten John had found a flat piece of balsam wood and wondered what it was. Clyde remembered a show on Sesame Street where they showed the making of bubble gum in the factory. John and he had used the Mr. Sketch Markers that smelled like mint. Together they had colored the balsam wood. Then they cut it into gun size pieces and chewed. They were both perfectly happy with the results until the teacher discovered their green tongues.
As Clyde listens to John peacefully interact with him, he is reminded of his older friend and fellow faculty brat, Chester. His first impression of sleep away college came from Chester.
When Clyde reflects about reasons that drugs just aren’t his jam, he thinks of Chester who will one day be his step-brother.
Clyde had suspected Chester might be gay. There had been some squeezes that had made Clyde uncomfortable. But Clyde had just ignored them and moved away. He really cared about Chester.
Then, there was the day Chester had come home from the dorms at Wesleyan College.
Clyde’s parents had just split. There was no one to talk to about his despair. Other friends hadn’t talked or seemed to care about it. Clyde had wished they would. He didn’t understand why no one cared about him. There was just so much despair.
So, Clyde welcomed Chester home and hoped to have a meaningful talk about his parents’ divorce.
They had been in the basement and got distracted from their ping pong game. Chester started telling him about college and interacted with Clyde in the same way John Randy is now communicating, using metaphors and making observations.
Chester had boasted that his college was one of the best pot smoking colleges there was. He’d reported that he’d done acid and that he had a crush on a guy who was in the jungle breaking trails with a machete. This was puzzling to Clyde.
Clyde had ignored the sense he was falling into a trap. Yet he continued to hide his distress and deny what was happening to the friendship. Finally, he learned that the jungle man Chester had a crush on was himself. At that point they had made their way up in his room and Chester tried to kiss his hand.
When Clyde had come to and he was hiding behind a sofa in the family room and Chester was in the kitchen talking to Clyde’s mother about gay marriage.
Now Clyde not only hadn’t had anyone he could talk to about the divorce, he didn’t have anyone to talk to about Chester. His Mom hadn’t proved useful.
In fact, his mom will silently judge him for years about being so sensitive about the incident. She will use this as evidence that Clyde is mentally ill. One time she had a girlfriend kiss her and she just said no and it wasn’t a big deal.
Clyde now thinks that Chester was likely tripping on acid. Somehow it helps explain why he was so freaked out as a teen.
Clyde was not proud of cutting off Chester. His resulting homophobic feelings, and the series of men who would later hit on him would be very painful for him to experience.
Clyde looked over at John Randy who was now sleeping and remembered an incident that happened a few years later with his mother.
Clyde had been noticing the way his mother was clearly acting very different with him when he came home from his summer work camp. She had been more permissive than she had ever been previously. When they went backpacking together, she had needed him and he had a sense of being idolized. Hypervigilance made him feel like it was a trap.
Then, the night he got his driver’s permit, his mom got really lit. Clyde didn’t think it was only wine she had been sipping. He had never seen her like this. She began begging him to go out and break the rules with her. She told him about all the men that were hitting on her but they weren’t as good as he. She begged and pleaded. She seemed flirtatious.
After that incident his mother seemed to cut him off. She was out partying most nights while he was up late working into the morning hours, completing school papers. The only contact she had with Clyde it had seemed was to yell at him for not eating. She didn’t show up on his prom night. He was in the process of losing all trust he ever had in her.
That’s right, drugs may not be Clyde’s jam, but eating irresponsibly certainly was.
The following summer Clyde had landed in the hospital for the first time.
It will be many decades later but Clyde will remember being fondled in a bathtub by Chester’s sister when he was in third grade. Was it possible that this had started his hypervigilance and antagonistic feelings about sexual activity?
Not long after, Clyde will remember witnessing rape and incest among family friends. He had joined the family at a vacation cabin on the Rancocas River. He will only recapture fragments of memories. The graphic memories will feel dream-like and surreal. All he will know for sure is that he had run and been a complete coward. He is a runner not a fighter.
Once Clyde will realize he has a thing about blacking out these memories, it will bring up the question about other forgotten memories and his ongoing hypervigilance and inability to trust, forgive, or accept loved ones. Not trusting his poor mother will be a real problem whether or not it is justified.
Suddenly Clyde recognizes he is in Philadelphia nearing John Randy’s apartment. One of the non-descript male passengers is making a big deal that a cop is tailing them.
Jolted back into reality, Clyde is at a red light and accidentally jams his foot on the gas petal. The light is red and the minivan lurches forward through the light. He is so upset at himself.
“Wow, I love it! Fuck the cops,” said one of the nondescript passengers.
Clyde remembers how John Randy had invited himself to move in with Clyde when he first dropped out of his fancy college.
Clyde found he had mixed feelings about giving up his studio. When the bugs did not prove to scare John away, Clyde had relied on his therapist to help him tell John Randy, no.
Clyde didn’t want to wake up to the smell of reefer or get that reputation amongst his clean and sober neighbors.
So, John rented a place in West Philadelphia out by the colleges. It will take some years but eventually Clyde will realize that Johns father somehow owns the apartment complex.
The minivan finally arrives at John’s apartment. The crew disperses into their various vehicles. John stumbles inside and the lights go out. Then, Clyde goes home.
Luckily, for Clyde, it is a short walk to the Frankfort “L” line. Then it is just one transfer to the high speed-line.
Though Clyde has done this trip many times before, it is already past midnight which means that the stop by Camden’s Market-Street—the one close to his apartment—will be closed. He will have to get off at the downtown Camden exit. Clyde doesn’t care, he knows how to handle himself.
He finds himself thinking more about his choice to move to Camden. He remembers how his classmates had thrown him a party when he came back from the first of his hospital stays. He has to admit it was a nice thing to do, but John hadn’t really bought into the niceness of it. His heart towards his schoolmates had turned sour in the hospital. He no longer openly trusted anyone.
Kids from the streets had seemed to care more about him than his cohorts at private school. At least they saw and supported him while all the issues he had with his parents were stirred up. At school he was usually invisible.
Then, when the treatment failed and he got switched to an all-female unit, Clyde had continued to suffer stuffing his belly. His classmates just couldn’t understand the hell he’d been through.
Instead of accepting their good wishes and gift certificate graciously, he had been visibly embarrassed if not angry. He had thought about the fact classmates were the kids who had always teased him for being out of fashion and who tended to exclude him.
If not for the hospitalization, Clyde may have considered that he’d overcome these issues his junior year. He planned and organized the student body to get active in social services.
But being the identified and abused patient has a way of changing one’s perspective. Plus, John Randy had let him know that his partner had, behind his back, taken all the credit for all of his work. Many of his cohorts believed her.
Perhaps many classmates had observed his embarrassment and opposition. They would tend to take opportunities to cut into Clyde his senior year in high school when he was living with John Randy. After graduation he just wanted to get away from them as quick as he could.
When he had lost weight and had returned to the hospital for a second stay, he had invited this twenty-five-year-old photojournalist he had met at a school event to an event with his class.
“They all said you were bulimic not anorexic! And they were not very positive about you,” the photojournalist, soon to be his twenty-five-year-old girlfriend had said during their courting. Now at twenty-seven, she was the ex-girlfriend.
This had confirmed to Clyde that he had been right not to trust them.
Clyde’s mother had already let him know she was gossiping about him in the family sessions. She glorified the concerns and condolences she got from the popular kids in Clyde’s class regarding his bad behavior. Clyde couldn’t believe the therapist allowed his mother to taunt him in this manner. But the therapist had started punishing him by not letting him speak due to his non-compliant behavior.
Thus, his girlfriend’s words had confirmed that the gossip was slander and that it was controlled via his parents talking to their friends, his teachers. Clyde felt the whole school was unified against him and it only fed his self-destructive streak.
He had never started throwing up until they forced him to eat in the hospital.
In reality, Clyde’s accurate intuition often made things worse for him as it prevented him from faking his way into better relationships with others. Indeed, Clyde’s accurate intuition will get him in all sorts of trouble later in life until he learns this lesson.
Indeed, in the train it is hard for Clyde not to feel tragically flawed.
As he comes up the escalator out of the speed-line stop, he exits the tinted glass doors to witness a knife fight between two men surrounded by a sprawling crowd. One of the men stands upright with his fisticuffs up while the other positions himself horizontally swinging his knife widely. Clyde thinks about how everyone is out testing their nerves and wonders what the fight is about as he motors through the crowd.
By the time he is approaching Federal Street a black man takes a look at him and gives him support for his look perhaps or for just being out at this hour of the night. This helps Clyde feel safe. He is grateful to all the angels he’s met in this city who support him in this way. They far outweigh the stereotypes.
When Clyde hits Cooper Street, his pace quickens. He cannot wait to get back to his apartment. He takes the elevator up to the sixth floor and as soon as he enters his piping hot apartment the poor cat showers him with love.
But Clyde doesn’t waste much time with the cat. He skips over the carrots and the fruit and immediately attacks the graham crackers. Then he hits the ice cream. He isn’t even trying to restrain himself. He goes after some Pathmark muffins and makes sure to hit some of his ice, cold Crystal light drink. He eats the rest of his yogurt covered pretzels and is back at the ice cream.
After a while he goes through the closet, into the bathroom and braces himself on the sink (the throat.) He let’s go of all the disgust he feels from the night out with his so-called friends. The food blurts out of his mouth in clumps. He uses his hands to detach the clumps from the sink and wash them down. Sometimes he gets impatient and just jams the clumps into the throat. When he is empty, he returns to eating.
Clyde focuses his mind on Gwendolyn and Ray and the few people he can trust at the deli. Still, he cannot stop until he has made a dent into his hundred dollar a week food supply. In the hospital he had gone to AA meetings. He doesn’t need to turn to drugs to help him cope with the meanness in this world. He already has his jam. He pukes until he is exhausted. Then, he goes to sleep.