‘Butch & Tom’ from Crass Menagerie

June 9, 2007

As promised, here is the full version of the essay that ran in edited format under ‘I realize I’ve become a chip off the old block’ in the Buffalo News My View.  I think the full version has better flow, but with newspapers, there’s always a word cap, so I had to whittle it down to 500 words.  Enjoy!

Butch & Tom

With a frightening degree of clarity, I realized the other day (while I was scowling for no apparent reason) that I’m turning into my father. For a number of years, I’ve been more akin to my mother: emotional, caring, supportive and chatty. And now I’ve hit the other end of the spectrum. I get up at six or seven in the morning, bitch about bills, swear at the cat, drink beer by the gallon, cook more food than two people can possibly eat in one household and wear the same pair of underwear for three to five days. I don’t know when this happened, and it frightens me. Please don’t misunderstand, as my father is a lot different in his retirement than he was when he was an intermediate family man. I’m beginning to take on the personality traits that he had in his late ‘30s and early ‘40s. I guess you just can’t escape genetics.

My dad (with few exceptions) was completely miserable for a good twenty years of his life. He worked at a job for over thirty years where he was on call one weekend out of the month, got up at six or seven in the morning and had to fight through the worst possible kind of commuter traffic known to man. He was a well paid union elevator mechanic, servicing colleges, businesses, churches, schools and other organizations. Most of the time he couldn’t stand his job, his boss or the traffic. When I was young, he took a fall down an elevator shaft and shattered a number of bones. This made him angrier.

I, on the other hand, have been at a job for five years that I’m no longer terribly fond of. I’m a well paid retail video game store manager who receives calls at home morning, noon and night with stupid questions from my staff that they could usually answer if they thought before they opened their mouths or dialed the phone. . I have to get up at six or seven in the morning, fight through the worst possible kind of commuter traffic, and I have to service some of the more socially and cognitively retarded children in the community on a daily basis. Most of the time I can’t stand my job, my boss, my customers, or the traffic. It pays really well, though, so here I am. When I was young, I took a spill at my summer home and cracked a rib on my left side. This made me even angrier.

My father drank like a fish for a good thirty years and hit the brakes after he developed some heart problems a few years back. After work, he’d often kick back with a gin and tonic (his signature drink) and a few budget beers and watch Benny Hill, Looney Tunes, The Dukes Of Hazzard and Hee Haw. He often woke up in the middle of the night for a snack and a bathroom break and rarely had a good night’s sleep. After a hard day at work, he didn’t have much patience for anybody’s bullshit, so if provoked, he would yell, scream, threaten physical violence (without carrying through on it) and generally scare the bejesus out of the guilty party.

I’ve been drinking like a fish for a good ten years. I take two to four day breaks every week because when I get really angry at work I’ve been getting dizzy for fifteen minute spells which probably isn’t a good sign. After work, I often like to kick back with a bourbon on the rocks (my signature drink) and a few imported Canadian beers watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Tick, Seinfield and The Kids In The Hall. Many times I’ll wake up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break and end up staying awake to read or check my email and I frequently wake up two or three hours before I have to get up in the morning. After a hard day’s work, I don’t have patience for anybody’s bullshit, so if provoked, I yell, scream, spit into my telephone, send threatening emails (without carrying through on it) and generally scare the bejesus out of everyone.

The one thing guaranteed to relax Butch is his summer home at Rushford Lake. When he was employed, he would spend a few weeks out of the year sitting on the sun porch in his cabin watching the birds, drinking coffee, napping and puttering around his palatial estate. He would often become sociable, inviting friends of the family down to visit and having bonfires where he would stay up way past his bed time fascinated with ‘the majestics of the flame’ (his term). He was fond of using one (or all) of his fifteen chainsaws, working on docks, fixing boat lifts and mowing lawns when they didn’t really need to be mowed. In the winter, he’d drive down to Rushford ‘to check up on things’, which meant that he could get the hell away from the family, sleep in peace, and eat bad subs from the corner store while drinking an entire twelve pack in silence.

The one thing guaranteed to relax me is my dad’s summer home at Rushford Lake. I’ve made it a point to spend at least two weeks in the spring and fall sitting on the front porch of the A Frame cottage my dad bought listening to Bob Dylan, drinking coffee, reading comic books, napping, and perfecting my grilling technique. I often become sociable down there, inviting an entire rogue’s gallery of friends down to visit playing cards, chess, having bonfires and crapping out two hours after we start the fire so I can play cards, win other people’s money and listen to stand up comedy. I’m fond of using one (or all) of my fifteen cameras taking pictures and filming inconvenient footage of my girlfriend, family and friends to use against them at a later date as well as going out in my aluminum boat for the day and drinking, eating pounds of curd cheese and peeing off the back of the boat in a shallow alcove between bouts of donuts around the lake to show off for the Hilton College women’s ski team. They ski on Wednesday evenings and I never miss a performance.

Butch had a personal sense of fatalism that permeated most of his life. If I wanted to watch a movie with him on week nights, we’d watch a half hour and he’d say ‘This is a piece of shit. I’m going to bed.’ If I spent my allowance and requested further funds, he’d say ‘You’re just going to piss it up anyway.’ If he had a particularly tough day, he’d say ‘Piss on it.’, meaning ‘The futility of the world and the dance of life in general is a joke played on us by our Creator.’ He was often happiest setting up a cocktail in the kitchen on top of the cutting board and in front of the liquor cabinet or cooking dinner. If we ate his food, he’d say ‘Can’t make that anymore, it all gets eaten up!’ He made noodles five nights a week in addition to everything else that he cooked. He remains a great cook.

I have a personal sense of fatalism, cynicism and sarcasm that permeates most of my life. I’ll watch the same ten movies ad nauseum, watching them from start to finish and laughing at them more than sanity permits. I’ll often talk a big game about staying up late and end up going to bed a half an hour before midnight. On a particularly tough day, I’ll say ‘Fuck everybody’, meaning ‘I don’t have the energy required to participate in the dance of life anymore today and I’d rather have nothing more to do with the world or my Creator.’ I’m often happiest pouring a fat tumbler of bourbon or Irish whiskey for myself and my friends on the island between our kitchen and living room or cooking dinner. If Lindsay eats all my food, I’ll say ‘Where the hell did my sandwich go? I was dreaming about it all day at work!’ I make a vat of something in the crock pot on Mondays and hope to make it last throughout the rest of the week. I’m becoming a great cook.

I love my father to death, and as time goes by, I resemble him more and more. It used to be just my mannerisms and my mood that reflected him back in the mirror, and now it’s much more than that, as you can see. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just startling to see how much of your family is embedded into your personality like a time bomb waiting to go off. I don’t think I’ll ever have a strong command for heavy machinery, tools, cars, maintenance, sensibility with money or an affinity for bad country music humor, but as for the rest, we’re peas in a pod. Once he retired, he transformed into an infinitely happier person, taking life in stride and joking often. Twenty three years from now, I hope to switch over to his way of thinking. Here’s to you, Butch.

Piss on it, this is a piece of shit, I’m going to bed,

Tom ‘William’ Waters

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