MY EARLY INHERITANCE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Excerpt from Accounts Payable – My Life Past Due
I don’t care much for the bestselling things and striking events of our times, but I do enjoy old books and the symbolic activities presented therein. I inherited my love for literature and a high tolerance for long lectures from my father at a very young age. Thanks to him, wonderful stories and academic discourses are my favorite things.
My father gave up journalism and became a dedicated ‘Made in the USA’ union man with the IBEW after the Great Depression and war. I disliked stripping the copper wire he brought home for extra cash, and I certainly did not want to become an electrician like him, but his love for the written word rubbed off on me. Wherefore I fancied myself as a proletarian writer at first, ever willing like Nelsen Algren to ride the rails to get a realistic gutter story if need be; Algren was so dedicated to his calling that he stole a typewriter and shipped it to Chicago before hopping a freight train back north; apprehended in transit, he did his jail time conjuring up the likes of Walk On The Wild Side.
Although I knew my dad for a very short period of time before I ran away from home for good, I was somewhat influenced by his delusions of grandeur and persecution, wherefore I am occasionally amazed by the grandeur of my own insignificance, as if I were at once both god and worm, and I don’t mind saying so at considerable length. His family was impoverished by the Great Depression. He joined the Army, an institution that was, he claimed, “a refuge for outcasts and riffraff, and was just like having a father and a mother in those days, when a man didn’t have any way of making a living.” He was a cavalry and artillery man during the war, and a student of journalism, real estate, and the law thereafter. He met my mother towards the end of the war. After her death at age 21, he married another woman, and then another – in the interims I was a foster child.
My father was forced to take up a hard-hat trade to survive. An electrician by trade, he was a pipe-bending poet who wired, amongst other facilities, the Midwestern missile bases. He was an alienated union man in the good old days when long hours bending electrical pipe instead of the law could make one as much money as a lawyer – mostly immigrants want the construction jobs nowadays, and they fare slightly better than dishwashers. He carried a red-plastic-covered copy of The Sayings of Chairman Mao in his back pocket for some time. He also had a big wad of money close at hand, and hid quite a bit more between the pages of books. Moreover, he stashed gold contraband in the walls, so much that he forgot where he put it all –somebody is going to be pleasantly surprised when they tear down that place down.
His stash, he said, was for his escape from his circumstances. I assumed that included me, and most of all my stepmother, who hated me, so I wanted to escape before he did. He used to disappear until the wee hours of the morning, but he didn’t a run for it until I was long gone, and he was virtually run out of town. A responsible family man, he just had to stay put through hell and high water. He liked to tell the story about the man who longed for many years to leave town, then went to the train station one day and died of a heart attack just as the train pulled in – sometimes people who enjoy suffering really do not want their ideals to be fully realized.
Now my dad, like me, was already balding in his teens. He was fond of saying that he had two personalities: hat on, hat off. But that was not all: he was also cross-dressing. Who would have known? He was a stern, tough-looking construction worker, a champion boxer in the Army, gung ho to go to the front line. He did not hesitate to knock a man out cold on Main Street one day, nor did he hesitate to shoot the neighbor’s barking dog in the middle of night, after repeatedly warning its owner to shut it up – he said dogs should be canned and sent to feed poor Asians.
Hard as my father worked to support his last family and to make sure his wife never had to work and thus meet the competition, and as tough as he appeared to be, he was a sentimental romantic who cried over silly poems. Maybe that was because his mother dressed him up as a girl when he was a child; his bartending father came home and beat him for the confusion. Today he is a hapless Romantic who suffers from the Orpheus Complex: sixty years after her death, he still edits his poems to my mother, as if that would retrieve her from Death. At one point in his cross-dressing career, he took her name as his own. He said he was my surrogate mother for a short period after her death, and that he became convinced that the dresses his mother had clothed him as a child accorded with the real woman within.
Sometime after he turned 85, he gave away his jewelry, bought two pairs of trousers, made washrags out of his fine dresses, and moved into a senior citizen’s apartment on the grounds of a historic, gold-domed Catholic church. Keeping up the role of a woman was just too much for him at his age, he said. But he still looked a bit like a little old lady – it annoys him when complete strangers call him sweetie and dearie. Well versed in scripture, he refers to a messiah. One day, as he watched old folks creep from his apartment building into the side door of the church for Mass, he claimed that given the dissatisfactions of human nature, there is always a better place than our current residence, no matter where we are at the moment, and that the last resting place is what funereal preachers call the Better Place. His current flame is a lesbian nun, or rather a trans-sexual nun who says she is a lesbian bride of Christ.
There is some truth in the maxim: Like father like son. I am not inclined to wear dresses or to go overboard with my illusion into delusion. I have almost managed to rid myself of the romantic pathos. But my father and I share our love for literature – it is our favorite escape from the brutal reality of realists who are subject to the illusions of realism. Today we identify a man with what he does to make a living, and not with the essence of his life. My father was a poet who happened to be an electrician. Some make good their escape and that is their living. Perhaps I shall differ from him in that respect. We shall see
David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach 2004