By Hitch McGrath
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Scott fell and broke his arm once while playing in the yard with some friends. I was around 5 or 6 at the time, but it was one of those family stories that was brought up every so often over the years. I’m not sure how much I actually remember from that day, and how much I remember just from hearing the story over and over again.
Scott said he had heard a snapping sound when he fell and there was an especially bad kind of pain. He tried to pretend he was fine, but the wincing and watery eyes said otherwise. Scott came in the house and told dad he was hurt. He said it hurt so much he was afraid he’d broken a bone. Dad didn’t believe he’d really broken his arm because he could still move it. He thought he was just being soft so he told Scott to put some ice on it and go lay down.
Mom was out shopping at the time and when she got home a little while later and saw the black and blue arm and my brother holding back his tears she started yelling at Dad.
“Frank, how could you?! Scott’s arm is broken! Look at how bruised and swollen it is!”
“What? He’ll be fine Deb. Just overreacting as usual.”
“He is not Frank! He needs to have it looked at! We’re going to the hospital right now! I can’t believe you!
“Alright, alright. Fine. I’ll get my keys. But I’m telling you he’s fine.”
We piled into the Oldsmobile to take my brother to the emergency room. Scott had broken his arm in 2 places, and he had to get a cast that ran from his hand to just above the elbow. Dad tried to play it off, but I think he realized then that the macho thing wasn’t working. He took it a bit easier on us both after that.
Mom was the one to talk to when you had a bad day. She was big on feelings and was often overly emotional. Overprotective at times too. She was always kind and nurturing. She tried so hard with Scott but as he entered his teens he gave her less and less respect every year. Still she always insisted on hugs and kisses goodbye.
“What if something happens and this is the last time I see you?,” she would often say. “Now get over here and give your mother a kiss!”
Scott would roll his eyes and groan and then walk over and give mom peck on the cheek.
“Oh sure, you’re too cool for that now, but you’ll miss me one day and wish you could still get a hug and a kiss on the cheek.”
My father, on the other hand, had an emotional stiffness to him with everyone but our mother. He could be unintentionally cold and was a striking contrast in personality to the sensitive, emotive person our mother was. He wasn’t going to ask how you were feeling about anything. Empathy was a difficult concept for Dad; he didn’t have much for anyone.
The expectation for men in our family was to be traditionally masculine and there was a sort of homophobic inability to physically touch each other and express emotion. You’d be lucky to even get a handshake. Hugs and talking about feelings was apparently for, "queers," I could only guess.
Scott lived at home for a long time. Though he was five years older than I was, he lived with my parents through most of his 20’s. He dropped out of high-school his senior year and got a job at a gas station. Dad wanted to kick him out but my Mother wouldn’t have it. My parents agreed to charge him a low rent to try and teach him a lesson.
Scott didn’t make much money working at the gas station, but he also didn’t need much money. My father thought that if Scott worked for a while and struggled a little with money, he might go back and at least finish high-school. Instead, Scott paid his rent to my parents every month to keep them off his back, and had no ambition to work harder for more money just to pay even more rent to live on his own. He learned how to get by passing the lowest possible bar in every situation.
After Scott dropped out, Dad was reluctant to talk to anyone about how things were going with my brother. I think he was embarrassed. There was no college or new careers to talk up when other grownups asked how things were going.
By the late 90’s, Scott spent most of his free time in his room playing on his computer and blowing bong hits out the window. He scraped together enough to buy an old beat up pickup truck so he could come and go as he pleased. He didn’t have many other bills.
After a few years at the gas station, he went into shipping and receiving in a warehouse specializing in frozen foods and supplies for restaurants. He mostly loaded and unloaded trucks and wheeled around pallets of boxes. Management seemed to like Scott and after he’d worked there a couple of years they convinced him to get his high-school equivalency diploma.
For a while, they even helped him take a few business classes at the local community college, though he never got so much as an associates degree. He still hated school, yet, off went Scott, putting in some effort and trying to climb the company ladder. He got to be a group leader on the 3rd shift.
He moved out of my parents place and rented a small 2 bedroom house. It was a dump, but it was cheaper than most apartments and there was nobody else living on a floor above or below him. That was the beginning of the most ambitious period of Scott’s entire life. We all thought he might have finally pulled his shit together.
Ultimately, he worked his way up to a position as shipping and receiving supervisor. He is in charge of 15 other employees, oversees all the loading and unloading of trucks, and coordinates shipments with the inventory manager. He has a small office with a tiny desk, a dirty fan, a calendar with topless women, and a bottle of vodka hidden in the locked bottom drawer. It is a dead end job but Scott doesn’t care. He isn’t going anywhere else anyway.
He got married when he was 32 and was divorced by 35. He met his wife during happy hour at a townie bar he could walk to from his rented house. After they were married, they bought a decent ranch in a nice neighborhood about 20 minutes from Mom and Dad’s.
Scott’s wife was a billing clerk for an optometrist’s office and their marriage ended abruptly when she was caught having an affair with a dentist who worked in the next building over. I never cared for her much, and I felt bad for Scott. Despite the infidelity, in the divorce Scott lost the house and half of his stuff. He spiraled into depression and became an alcoholic, chain smoker, and a staunch Republican.
Previously he never paid much attention to politics. He flirted with conspiracy theories, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but he was skeptical of the entire government. By 2012 he’d registered to vote as a Republican. He listened to right-wing AM talk radio all day, and watched conservative TV news.
He grew a fanatical hatred of Barrack Obama and relentlessly bitched about taxes and immigrants and people on any kind of government assistance. “Takers,” he called them. How quickly he forgot about our own family’s struggles when Dad was in and out of jobs for a few years.
He put a sticker on his bumper that read, “Work hard. Millions on welfare depend on you.”
Scott envied successful businessmen and began to emulate them as best as he could. Perhaps it was the title of, “supervisor.” He put his extra money into his 401k and tried to follow the stock market. He took out a loan for a used BMW, and he loved to be seen playing golf.
I hated golf with a passion. I couldn't stand it. Almost as much as I couldn't stand Republicans.
There was something about the image of being a cigar chomping golfer in a polo shirt and khaki slacks that Scott wanted to emulate. Hanging around the bar in the clubhouse and trying to rub elbows with the owner class who rarely visited the public course. The kind of people who had little use for him but to manage a warehouse and keep the lower tier employees in line. A place where they’d hired him without a high-school diploma. A company that made millions of dollars in profits every year yet kept cutting back on their health insurance and other employee benefits. Where he only got 2 weeks of vacation, had no sick time, and was paid around $50,000 to run an entire department.
He seemed to be mad at the wrong people.
Scott wasn’t a great supervisor, or a good golfer despite all the time he spent doing both. At work, he just showed up and made sure to do enough to keep things running smoothly and avoid being fired. In golf however he desired to be great - better than he’d ever be. He dragged me with him once to play golf when he was first getting into the game.
I was around 28 years old at the time, and as soon as we got there I knew I didn’t belong. I lost 4 balls from the first tee, and almost took out an old man on an adjacent green when I sliced hard left and forgot to yell, “fore!” Scott was embarrassed and decided we’d only play the first 9 holes.
I didn’t really care. I didn’t want to be there in the first place, but he’d practically begged me to go with him. I went along because I thought it might be nice to catch up. I hadn’t seen him much since he got married the year before. He was more tolerable back then. He brought an extra set of clubs he got from a garage sale for me to use and he told me each time which club I should be using. I would probably have done just as well throwing the golf ball. My aim would have certainly been better.
Some people thought the golf course was a thing of beauty. I thought it would have been better off as a nature park instead of 5 miles of mowed grass. What a waste. If they insisted on cutting down all those trees and making it a wide open space, it seemed like prime real-estate to me. There had to be better use for all that space. I had the same thoughts about cemeteries. They both provided plenty of room for some low income housing.
We can make room for the dead, sure - they pay. Or their families do. But the poor? Even the working poor with minimum wage jobs? They have to live in their cars or they bounce between shelters, sidewalks, back alleys, and eventually a paupers grave. That’s the only free housing they’ll ever get. Here was the results of leaving things up to the adults again.
Scott took his golf game seriously and was determined to shoot under 90 some day. He’d cheat if he had to especially when nobody was looking. He snapped a club beating it into the ground after a bad shot once. I couldn’t imagine being so worked up over such a boring game. He chose this recreational activity for fun and then spent a large part of that time being pissed off.
Scott blamed our school, our parents, and me being born for his early troubles in life. As we approached middle age, he blamed his ex-wife, affirmative action, feminism, and the liberals in government for his life not being better. He didn’t want to make any donations or pay any more taxes regardless of who or what it helped. He didn’t care about anything anymore but his own self interests and could spare no empathy for anyone but himself.
He voted for the party of “personal responsibility,” yet like many of the same political persuasion, he accepted none for himself. He felt slighted and overlooked despite being a high-school drop out. He should have had his own company. He should have been well off and had a hot trophy wife who wouldn’t dare cheat on him. He should have had a membership at the private country club the next town over, and a reserved parking spot for a brand new BMW.
Somehow, it was probably all Obama’s fault.
Nearly twenty years before all that played out, we were just kids in the backseat of the family car, on the way to take a nature walk and have a picnic with our parents. I was excited for adventure and Scott gazed out his window, consumed by the music in his headphones.
As I let myself think back, I wonder now what he was dreaming about then. I can’t imagine it was being a divorced, bigoted, alcoholic, shipping supervisor at a frozen foods warehouse - but then, I hadn’t exactly pictured myself pouring over blueprints and designing fixtures to make precision parts that went into missiles used to kill people I’d never even know in the Middle East.
Dad was right about most people hating their jobs.
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cynicism is the drug of the
cynicism is the drug of the older generation, but voting for the moron's moron and his cabal of takers and liars is a step too far. Sorry, this has little to do with yoru story. Just venting. Like Scott, life can be a fuck up.
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It's the American dream gone
It's the American dream gone very wrong - so sad. I imagine the right-wing news tells him all he wants to hear
This is well written and an interesting, sobering read. You have changed names, details, locations etc, right? We've had problems in the past about family finding people's autobiographical writing and getting very upset.
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Major conflict obviously ahead
Congrats on yet another cherry Hitch. What a great way to start your time here on ABC tales. The more we can make our fiction resmble non-fiction the better the composition and vice versa but what Poncey syas is very true.
I wrote a piece one time that my mother thught was about her and even though it wasn't, I always felt bad that she thought it was.
Scott sounds like quite the A hole
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Wow, that is a powerful
Wow, that is a powerful ending to a riveting story. I could not stop reading it and the last paragraph back int eh oldsmobile was sad knowing how he turned out.
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Absorbing and so fluently
Absorbing and so fluently written. Your writing sounds as if it could be 'true' because (as well as all the wonderful physical detail you put in) it offers the reader characters and emotional dilemmas they can recognise and react to.
Sounds like your mother is very supportive (if a little nervous!) about your writing.
As always, looking forward to reading more.
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