Reality TV

Long before electronic remotes existed my family employed the use of a biological one, my younger brother John.  Our Zenith TV, the first color one in our neighborhood earned my father  the title of American royalty. The neighbors gathered in our den one Saturday; bowls of chips were passed and my mother tittered around making certain that the adults were sitting in the optimal viewing zone. Children were thrown about the floor like scatter rugs, elbows to the floor and chins resting in their palms. When the colors of the NBC peacock appeared, you could hear a pin drop.

My father left.  The TV stayed, for years.  The wooden corners were gnawed by one dog or another. When the power button fell out a wrench found permanent residence in the hole to twist the button on or off and the color slowly began to fade to a sickly green which could be temporarily adjusted by a swift whack with the heel of the hand to the side.  Even the remote began to get finicky.

“John, get up and change the channel,” my older brother Chuck would yell from his perch on the sofa and I would echo “Yeah, get up and change the channel dufus.”

John would lay there on the orange shag carpeting as if nerve gas had crept into the house and rendered him unconscious.

There would be one more command before Chuck would begrudgingly get up and nudge John with his foot, arms-length away from the TV himself.
We would hear the sound of my mother’s brown pinto on the gravel driveway and spring into action. My comatose brother John would miraculously arise and run to the kitchen to grab a wash towel, wet it with cold water and wipe the top of the TV to cool it down.  Chuck would grab a book and sit up, suddenly enthralled by its content. Our mangy dog Tiger would wake up with wide eyes and spring off the sofa, aware that if he was found on the furniture by my mother he would suffer the same fate as the banished cat.
When my mother entered through the back door there we’d be, a placid scene of family harmony who had by no means been watching TV all night; John diligently scribbling in his notebook, Chuck reading an upside down book, Tiger panting in his flat doggie bed and me at the piano, entertaining them all with a rousing rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.”

My mother would regard this scene warily, walk to the TV and place her hand on top, moving it around like a doctor with a stethoscope searching for a pulse.  When she was satisfied with its dead coolness, she’d pick up the kitchen phone, stick the end of a pencil in the rotary to dial a number and begin to talk for hours on end.  We’d breathe a sigh of relief.
The TV was eventually replaced.  The biological remote matriculated to college and all of us brothers moved out and bought TV’s of our own for every room in our homes.

My mother will often call me and bemoan the sorry state of our brotherly affair, each of ya'll too busy to give a rat’s-ass what the other one is up to. There was a beautiful zenith of synergy that peaked around the flickering green light and then like the TV faded to black. Occasionally, we’ll gather at the holidays, our own re-runs scattered on the floor, watch the old shows and briefly marvel at how funny and heartwarming that original content truly was.

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Saint Peggy and The Ugly Sinner

By all accounts, my mother was a saint and we were her little angels; four cherubic boys who went to church every Sunday. As we grew older, it was uttered more than once by admiring neighbor ladies “Oh, how lucky any girl would be to marry one of them Dameron boys.” 

The Trifecta: Bowl cut, acne and braces
We rarely needed to be separated during church service by my mother for punching each other in the leg or making fun of the way the Irish lay reader, Mr. Kilmartin said “fil-um”, a.k.a. film.

“Are you going to the fil-um?” I’d whisper to my comatose brother John who would start laughing uncontrollably.  

This would start a chain reaction of punches; from my older brother Chuck to John’s arm. John would complete the circle by passing it right along to my leg. I’d jerk which would wake up my youngest brother Matt, dozing on my mother’s lap.  My mother would do her part by pinching us hard through our itchy Sunday jackets and stand up to separate the offenders.

It was this type of behavior that prevented us from ever having a repeat babysitter.  When bedtime came we would dutifully march upstairs. I’d immediately slip through the second story window, walk on the flat roof to the edge, hop down onto the window air conditioning unit, jump to the ground, sashay to the front door, ring the doorbell and run. My brothers would sneak down the steps and so would begin a human game of “Wack-a-mole.”

When my mother came home we’d sit at the top of the steps and listen in.

“How were they?” my mother would ask.

“Perfect angels,” the harried babysitter would reply, but we’d never see her again.

Then my mother hired Peggy.  Peggy was eighteen, overweight, with short black hair, always wore jean overalls and a flannel shirt.  She had a deep monotone voice and we understood in a child’s way, that there was something different about her. Certainly, she didn’t take any shit, but there was something more, though we never over analyzed it. 

First came fear and then came love.

Peggy had no desire to talk to boyfriends on the phone or mindlessly watch TV.  She took us to the Seven-Eleven and bought us Slurpies.  She would come to our house and for no reason at all drive us to Lake Brandt and teach us how to fly fish.  We’d sit in a row boat near the lake's edge under low hanging branches where kamikaze bugs dove into the water. She’d patiently show us how to cast our line into that spot and keep the fly moving, imitating a drowning bug.

Once, I noticed her sleeves were rolled up and there was a bouquet of raised red splotches on her forearm.

“What are those?” I asked.

“Cigarette burns,” She replied.

“Who did that to you?”

“I did it to myself, because I needed to feel something.”

It was that straight forward and I never questioned it.

Peggy stuck with us until we became teenagers.  She dropped by one last time when I was a sensitive and gangly fifteen year old with braces on my teeth, a nose that grew faster than my face and pock marked skin.

“You have a handsome face that one day you’ll grow into,” She told me.

Sometimes I’ll see a bug scrambling on the pool surface and think of Peggy.  I’ll gently scoop it out and wonder what became of her, though I fear I know.  She was able to see an angel in my ugly ways and burned a mark there for me to always remember.


A Fryeburg Fair Fable

Pigs can see in a 300 degree radius, which increases their panoramic vision but decreases their bifocal vision.  In short, they can see the world around them, but not too far down the road. 

We have come to the Fryeburg agricultural fair, driving through a string of small Maine towns with names plucked from other places; Cornish, Limerick and Hiram.  The towns sprung up at the confluence of the Ossippee and Saco rivers hundreds of years ago and to my eyes appear relatively unchanged. Grassy green hills with white clapboard churches, their crumbling cemeteries filled with original settlers, rest beneath blue skies heavy with the scent of pine and pitch. I can’t help but wonder how they got here or for that matter, how I did. 

By artificially increasing the light--for instance using electric lights in the stable it is possible to begin the breeding season in a mare.  Given the right amount of light, mares become irresistible.

The descendants of those original settlers join us on this bright October day, ambling through dusty hay barns and gravel paths.  Teenage boys, full of swagger, wearing bright green John Deere baseball caps and camo jackets pretend not to notice girls in skinny blue jeans and tank tops running their fingers through long gossamer strands of hair while glancing over their shoulders. I look sideways at Paul and think about that cold November night; our first kiss among the banks of snow under the parking lot light.

The best cows give over twenty five gallons of milk each day.  One gallon of milk weighs over eight pounds.  It takes twelve pounds of milk to make one gallon of ice cream.

The crispy scent of fried dough and the sweet smell of boiled down maple sap from the sugar house mingle in the air.   Paul buys me a sticky, crumbly apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream and offers my stepson Nick a box of fudge.  Beanie opts to eat nothing and I worry.  I still remember the time late at night when her insulin pod malfunctioned.  Paul drove the 180 mile round trip to Boston to retrieve another pod at two AM when the other one malfunctioned, no complaints and nothing but smiles.

A champion racing pigeon can be released 400-600 miles away from its home and still return within the day.  Feral pigeons mate for life

I slow down my pace and drift behind Paul and the kids, watching the dust rise up from their shuffling feet. They move slowly as a group, each one seeming to have the innate sense of where the other one is.  And then like the dust, I find myself floating among the crowd.  If I were to rise up high enough I might look down and see the road we took today and floating higher still I’d see the highway connecting Maine to Boston and beyond that the highways south. 

Nick tugs my shirt, pulling me back to Earth.

“You scared me Billy, I thought we lost you,” he says.

“Not a chance," I say.  

I may not know what lies down the road, but I know which one will bring me home.


Saranac Review

"We opened the bar door and stepped out into the night.  There is a truth in the piercing silence that washes over a person at two in the morning under the starry Colorado sky. The beat and hum still pulsing through our veins, we walked to his car, Don’s arm around my shoulder, mine around his waist and then his lips on mine; thirst and hunger. The air molecules melted into a heated mixture of our mingled scents; orange, cloves and salty skin. Suddenly, I was at the basin of Phantom Canyon as a cold wind blows in and a June snowfall glitters the red canyon walls;  and then at the top of Royal Gorge on a suspension bridge staring dizzily a thousand feet below at the Arkansas River cutting through time. When the camera zoomed back in, it was just above us, our foreheads touching and my arms resting on his shoulders as we breathed deeply, the distant hum of the bar behind us and the moonlit sky stretched over the silent Rockies. And then I heard the hum become Sheila’s words, like the recognition of an alarm in a dream. She was walking quickly towards us. “He’s not sure if he’s gay yet Don!”   

But there was no more confusion.  I knew."


I am thrilled to announce the inclusion of my short coming of age/coming out memoir "Splintered Light on Clear Creek" in this year's edition of the fine literary journal, the Saranac Review.  This edition includes works by many award winning poets and authors.  I hope you will give them a visit.

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