I’m on 250mg of Clozapine for my bipolar disorder/GAD. An extra 25mg bump of it is supposed to keep my anxiety down, rather than continuing Klonopin or putting me on a different benzo to respond to difficulties. I was reticent to change it, but I think the Clozapine is doing what is supposed to do. My anxiety level has been unusually high lately as we collectively watch this virus decimate the world with its rapacious need to copy itself. That’s what life does, ultimately.
Changing Clozapine levels for me makes me worry if I am becoming another version of myself. It’s a peculiar drug, and a strong one. I joke with my wife about it, who doesn’t think it’s funny. I guess if I were her, it wouldn’t be-after all, she has had to hospitalize me several times. Anyway, it brings on a desire to reflect, and sometimes those burning recollections make you wonder why you are still alive, or perhaps more specifically, wonder whether you should exist at all after what you have done what you have done with said existence. My back pages are filled with things and occurrences that I should not have been allowed to get away with. Are they all that unusual? I don’t really know. I have “friends” but I don’t have many with whom I share deep secrets with. This digital page is much easier to talk to, helping me keep my distance from people as I have often been wont to do. It allows me to slowly compose my thoughts, and revise them into a narrative that makes sense. This way, anxiety is held at bay.
What’s so bad about people, you say?
We’re embarrassing, that’s what. You know it, I know it. And each of us has to live with that. Yet somehow, our complex minds typically shield us from ever having to feel bad about it. Forgetting becomes the only way to keep your head up.
But brains often work against their owner. An embarrassing remembrance unlocked could dog you right outta the blue. And I got ’em in spades.
The year is 1986. It’s the New Jersey suburbs. I am all of fourteen. I have a baseball card habit, and as such I am a frequent customer of a little place called T&T Sports Cards. The owner, Al, who is the age I am now, had an acrimonious split with his investment partner, and it would be a while before his wife Patricia became the other T. I don’t remember why this information was shared with me. Al took a shine to me, but I couldn’t tell you why. Perhaps it was our shared Italian ethnicity, or or it might have been because he was into my mom. I cannot quite remember. Now Al had two jobs because you can’t make any real money selling memorabilia. It was a small burb, Morristown, and he had fierce competition from another shop a few miles away in the next town. My friend Mike and I were good paying customers and so he shot the shit with us straight up about the politics of the business. We knew more about his life and his occupation than perhaps we should have.
A few words about the The Lumpster.
The Lumpster was who minded the shop in the afternoon while Al went to his first gig. He was probably the first Goth I ever met. He was a tall, pale, somewhat doughy kid not much for conversation who needed a haircut and wore black. I’d say he was two or three years older than me. The Lumpster was weird and awkward, as Goths are, and when Al arrived at the shop, he’d pick on the Lumpster while we me and Mike were there. We ate it up with a spoon, snickering as Al jibed him. The Lumpster did not offer much in the way of self defense. Anyway, I guess Al got tired of his weirdness and lack of self-respect, and I received a clandestine offer to replace The Lumpster. Al just needed to find the right time to let him go. And he did. The job was open the store after school and mind it until about five or six o ‘clock. I had my own set of keys to the place, the codes to the alarm and a tutorial of the cash register.
Wow. What a great gig for a teenager! And good for Al, too-he practically didn’t have to pay me because he paid in cash and had I would usually turn that money right back over to him to feed my habit. I would spend the time tidying the store, selling merch and making sets from packs of cards. A set was about 800 cards long, containing cards for every player that year. I’d sit at a small table, open 3 or four boxes of the year’s bubblegum packs before I could assemble an entire set. The baseball card industry was having a renaissance at the time, and collections like whole sets were in high demand. Everything was in demand, actually. Real money was starting to change hands for singles too. Al would take me to memorabilia shows and you would not believe what some of these new cards were commanding pricewise. The hobby had evolved its own economy, and its own stock market. Prices were tethered to the athlete’s performance at first, and then there came a whole speculative market on who would become the hot new stars. A player like Jose Canseco who could reliably knock the shit out of the ball in the minors would have a card worth sixty dollars before they even faced their first pitch in the show. There were the old standby brands like Topps and Fleer, and soon there were “boutique” cards on the scene like the ones offered by Donruss, who at first derived their value from scarcity and then began to produce a slick, loud, superglossy product that had a limited run. The industry peaked and was on life support by 1991, and then all the speculation ended when we collectively realized that our stuff wasn’t as scarce as we thought. Most of it turned out to be worthless. Insane amounts of demand became intolerable to the producers of the little cardboard wonders and they flooded the markets with common, easily procured cards.
I was never destined to become a really good collector, or seller. Why?
I had no love for the game it was based upon. Weird, huh? I grew up in a sports household, but by this time I was estranged from my abusive father and would not sit with him when the games were on. So I didn’t have the foggiest idea why Eric Davis and Roger Clemens card prices soared; I was the last to get in on a hot card because I only developed an interest in a card when the card increased in value well after the players’ notable performance. I couldn’t see the nuances that a fan of baseball did. I was, to put it mildly, a terrible investor, late to the hot buys, purchasing at high points. It may seem strange that I could be so heavily into something like baseball cards without an inkling of what drove the industry, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one into it for the money and pride of ownership.
Al’s hole in the wall was a reet cool place to be in the years between 1986 and 1989, sharing a storefront with a Chinese laundry, owned by a Mr. Chin. It was very hard to understand Mr. Chin. Al would often do his impression of the old man who ran the place. “Chingity-chang-ching-chong-Chin’, he’d chortle mockingly, and it was pure comedy gold to my 14 year old Truly Tasteless Jokes-telling ass.
In time, though, I became a liability for Al, kind of in the way that The Lumpster was, maybe much worse-and needed to be let go. I did some really fucked up things that I wish I could forget. I mean, yes, I was a young teen but there was no excuse for some parts of my time at T&T.
First off, I had to constantly told to turn down the music. Al had cassette tapes of MOR bands like America and Wings, and the little boom box was there to play quiet quasi-Muzak while customers shopped. Not when I was working. I’d crank that shit up, and often brought my own awful teenage cassettes, from old school rap to Dire Straits to Dokken. I did not have the ability at the time to step back and realize that the volume of the music was distracting commerce and I probably alienated a lot of business because it was irritating to be there. I began writing for a punk fanzine around 1987-1988 and “staff meetings” were often held at the store table where I was supposed to be making sets. My friends were freaks and looked the part. Again, I did not understand what that may have looked like to people who wanted to spend money in the store. I was letting my boss down in a big way.
That’s not all, of course. There was the stealing. I’m trying to figure out where my mother went wrong that I became a thief. It wasn’t the first time I had stolen, though. I had a car wash gig the year before in ’85 and I would routinely steal the quarters from the car consoles while I was drying and detailing for video game money. Never caught. I also had a hustle with Mike where we’d make Xerox copies of dollar bills and shove them into the easily fooled change machines in the lobby of the hospital across the street from my apartment complex. Worked like a motherfucking charm-more video game money. Also never caught.
I got caught stealing from Al, though. And I didn’t like it one bit. My hustle at the card store was to replace a “near mint” card of my own with a “mint” card from Al. It was important that your shit was immaculate in condition, otherwise its value is lessened. And I couldn’t bear having gnarly cards. So I took them from Al. I’ll never forget the day he called me on it. What did I do? Well, I could think of only one thing-deny it, even though my efforts to retain mint copies of my cards was probably obvious. I got indignant and pretended I couldn’t believe that he did not trust me, friend as I was to him. I raised my voice at him in disgust, shocked that he should say something like that to me. At sixteen, to a grown adult. It was a ballsy gambit and it may have worked. He studied me for a few seconds, unsure of what to do with me. The he backed off of the accusation. Either he was being magnanimous or he believed me. I wasn’t long for the job after that spat. My relationship with Al was inexorably strained after this. He brought in his young son to do some of my shifts with me, and eventually his wife took over duties and my tenure ended.
But what really stands out is the masturbation.
I had, like most boys my age, developed quite a fascination for pornographic magazines. It began in earnest as young as twelve. My fucking barber Salvatore had crazy amounts of the stuff at his shop, real raw nasty European smut like Oui and Prive that I got caught perusing a couple of times while I waited for my turn in the chair. Why did I, and not my mother know this about my barber? Also, you could spend half a day at the local convenience store and put a porn mag inside a regular mag and ogle and ogle until you were chased out. The dumpster in my apartment complexes were also of great interest to us as unsupervised male children. Any refuse we liked was spirited off into the woods behind the garage rows. We found a porn collection or two and we left them in a particular spot for each other in case we wanted to furtively rub one out. While I was ruining Al’s business between the noise and the degradation of his merchandise, I found that old Al himself had a secret collection of his own that he kept at the store, above the doorway of the back room. It wasn’t long before I began to masturbate to them at the store. Back then I could shoot my wad 2-3 times in the space of a few hours and that’s exactly what the fuck I did every day at T&T, hovering over the toilet in the tiny bathroom, pecker in one hand, tissue paper in another, Penthouse or Playboy opened up to the girls that turned me on the most-hoping I wouldn’t get caught in flagrante delicto by the magnetic bell that signaled a customer had arrived. I resented that bell.
I masturbated so much to those women that I can assuredly point out to you thirty years later the exact Playmates or Pets out of a pile of pics today that I used to jerk my gherkin to. That’s how demented porn will make you.
What was Al doing with them? The same, I can only assume. Either that or he was trying to jumpstart his erotic desires which he could then take to his marriage bed. I sure can’t say. His wife was pretty enough but whatever. That doesn’t matter. Men are pathetic, needing the levels of fantasy the way they do. The situation was so bad back then that having a Playboy subscription didn’t necessarily mean you had a porn problem. Such plebeian sexual peccadilloes done above ground were tolerated by wives back then. But Al had a habit out of the home, so I figure maybe we were both beating our bishops to the stash and Patricia, who you could tell you didn’t want to piss off, wouldn’t have liked his collection of fantasies one bit.
It’s memories like this that make me wonder what in hell is wrong with me. I came up with all this bad behavior between my own ears. I was my mother’s pride and joy but having a good wholesome momma doesn’t always mean you raise a good kid. Maybe it’s best that I do become a different version of myself, you know, rack up a few more years of being relatively decent bit by bit so I can stop remembering the things that make me so remarkably awful.