Charles Rammelkamp, "Dabe," "What's Wrong with My Parents,?" "Eavesdropping," "Conspiracy 101," "The Ususal Clueless," & "The Hook"
Max, the yoga teacher, pronounced “fingers” to rhyme with “stingers.” “Hook your fingers at the base of the skull,” he commanded, setting us up for a balance pose, standing on one leg, the other crooked into the opposite thigh. Balance poses were always my worst. I always felt so clumsy.
But suddenly I was remembering my brother’s childhood friend Larry who called my brother “Dabe.”
“It’s not ‘Dabe,’” I insisted, “It’s ‘Dave.’” We were sitting in the living room of my parents’ house.
Larry looked embarrassed, and my parents mildly scolded me. I was like five or six years old. “But he’s saying it wrong,” I protested. “Dave’s name is ‘Dave,’ not ‘Dabe.’”
Larry made the effort. “Daaavvve,” he said, blushing. Did it look painful?
My parents didn’t exactly punish me, but they let me know I shouldn’t have tried to correct Larry. They made me aware I’d done something wrong, though I wasn’t sure what it was.
All these years later I feel mortified at myself at how clueless and maybe even cruel I’d been then. I didn’t even know if Larry had some speech impediment; never found out.
Max touched my elbow, adjusting my pose. I wobbled, dropped my foot to the floor, put the sole against my thing again, but only for a couple of seconds before stepping on the floor again.
“Thanks,” I murmured.
“Keep your fingers on the base of your skull,” he whispered, before moving on to the next person in the studio. It still sounded like “stingers.”
But now I was back in the moment, trying to keep my balance.
What’s Wrong with My Parents?
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll break your fucking arm, you cunt!” Max, his hand poised at the Mortons’ front door, paused, mid-knock. He and his sixth-grade classmate Randy had made an afterschool playdate, and as agreed, Max had come over after first going home. But now he wasn’t so sure if he should knock. It would be awkward to say the least. But then again he had promised Randy.
Just then the front door opened, and out came Randy.
“I thought I saw you coming up the walk,” Randy explained, closing the door behind him, already headed out to the street.
“Is everything all right?” Max asked, trailing after his friend.
“It sounded like…I don’t know. Your parents,” Max mumbled vaguely.
“Oh, they were just arguing about where we’re going out for dinner tonight. It’s not a big deal.”
“Where you’re going out for dinner? It sounded serious.”
Randy shrugged, clearly not interested in the conversation.
“Your dad threatened to break your mom’s arm.”
“Oh, come on! Don’t tell me your dad’s never threatened to break your mother’s neck, or that she hasn’t said she was going to shoot him or stab him with a kitchen knife or something. A pair of scissors.” Randy gestured with wide-open arms to suggest how absurd Max was being.
“Well, no, not that I’ve ever heard. They’ve raised their voices, but nothing like that. I mean, your dad sounded mad, like he really was gonna break her arm. He even called her a cunt.”
Randy rolled his eyes. “They were just fighting, Max, it wasn’t a big deal. Don’t your parents fight? They just get along fine all the time, all lovey-dovey?” Again, Randy’s tone said just how naïve that idea was.
“I don’t know,” Max replied, and he wondered if maybe his parents were strange that way.
“What should we do?” Randy asked, dropping the subject, turning the conversation to something more pleasant. “Should we go to the movies?”
“Thousands of years of sadness can wear a person down.”
It was an intriguing sentence to overhear, standing in line at Starbucks, waiting to order a grande cappuccino.
The woman who had spoken appeared to be in her fifties. She’d let her hair turn gray from its original auburn. I couldn’t see her face.
“Who do I think I’m trying to kid?” her companion, presumably her husband, a man with a pot belly and a baseball cap, replied. Or was it a reply? Maybe it was more like a soliloquy. I suddenly had the feeling we were in a play.
They didn’t say another word to each other, but the man did seek the woman’s hand, a sort of blind groping of one for the other. When their order was ready – coffee and a breakfast sandwich – they paid and left the store, still holding hands.
The barista asked me what I wanted, and I told her, “A slice of life on a bun.”
“Oh no! I don’t believe it,” Leah sighed, shaking her head. “Well, I do believe it, actually, but still…”
“What is it?” Phil looked up from the book propped against his cereal bowl, both with mugs of coffee; their morning rituals. His wife sat across from him with her laptop, reading the online edition of The Forward, a headline declaring, “The antisemitic conspiracy behind the anti-porn movement.”
“It says here the white supremacists believe porn’s a Jewish conspiracy to weaken white men. They say Jews control the porn industry, which corrupts white women, normalizes interracial relationships.”
Leah went on, “Says the Proud Boys, a quote self-professed ‘western chauvinist group,’ forbids porn and masturbation, and of course that’s precisely what Jews are peddling.
Phil stood to read over Leah’s shoulder. “Jesus, they limit masturbation to once a month, to maintain their virility through ‘semen retention.’” He squinted at the online text. “They think this gives them superpowers. Wow. I wonder who’s keeping score, who’s counting.”
Phil returned to his chair, shaking his head. “Forget about it, Lee! There’s always going to be nutcases out there. Sometimes I think the newspapers print this stuff just to drive us nuts ourselves.”
Leah smirked. “Speaking of nutcases, did you read this bit about the Proud Boys’ ‘No-Nut November’? Their month-long challenge not to have an orgasm?”
Phil groaned but didn’t reply.
The Usual Clueless
“You know ‘evil’ is ‘live’ spelled backwards,” the boy announced to his father from the doorway.
Willis looked up from his laptop computer. He was sitting at the dining table puzzling over the crossword in the online version of the New York Times. The boy was just starting to deal with pimples, he noticed again. Always a distressing time of life.
“You’re right,” Willis replied after a moment, since Jeremy seemed to be expecting some kind of response.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” his son muttered, disgusted, and he turned to leave the room.
What was this all about? Willis had a brief terrified thought that his son was suicidal. “Jeremy!” he called, but his son ignored him, and Willis heard the heavy tread of his boots on the stairs, heading for his room. After a moment, Willis turned back to his laptop, the online crossword. Three down, five letters, “same old same old.”
“A long time ago, when I was in college, I wrote a song that I swear could have been a number one hit,” Prugh said, conversationally. He was not arguing about it, more astounded at the fact of his claim.
“What happened?” Margaret asked. She sipped her coffee. They were sitting in a Starbucks, colleagues after work, on their way home.
“I didn’t really finish it,” Prugh said. “I got distracted. It started out, ‘Goin’ to Nirvana via Raja Yoga!’ Then the backup singers echo, ‘Raja Yoga!’ Maybe there are horns, too. Waaaa! Then the lead singer goes, ‘Goin’ to Nirvana via Kama Sutra!’ And again, the backup singers echo, ‘Kama Sutra!’
“Man, it’s been a long time now, and I can’t really remember all the lyrics, but there was a line, ‘Gonna experience perfect bliss.’”
“What makes you think it would have been a hit?”
“The hook! ‘Goin’ to Nirvana via Raja Yoga!’ (‘Raja Yoga!’).” It was up there with ‘I want to hold your hand’ and ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ It just was.”
“Too bad you didn’t follow through, eh?”
“Well, I can’t sing, and I don’t play the guitar or any instrument, and I didn’t have a band or know anybody who did, but –“
“You could have been a contender.”
“It really could have been a hit, Margaret,” Prugh insisted. “It had a hook.”
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives with his wife Abby. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip, Misfit Magazine, and The Compulsive Reader. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published in 2021 by Clare Songbirds Publishing and another, Sparring Partners, by Moonstone Press. A full-length collection, The Field of Happiness, will be published in 2022 by Kelsay Books.