Tarred and Feathered Smiley-Faced Kid, A Turkey Fancying Himself a Phoenix, Offers the Skin of a Sewing Machine to What's Left of His Diagram of a Mother
A project by David Colosi, 2006
Photo credits: David Colosi
I’ll carry us, he called to his mother, living up to his name, heading toward the flame.
A blast from the other side of the sun brought the son from his shack across the tracks to cross the border to make a living for his mother. The blast from the sun shot a pot of gold way past the rainbow leaving a hot glow of coins to use as blocks and sticks and brick to build a home with. Upon his arrival, he found landfills filled with spills of debris and everything was free – that stuff that rolled out of sight beyond their reach in the deep of night carried so far away that no one really cared because new ones soon appeared.
The son of the sculptor in the time of inventors who was best known as the architect of the labyrinth – or so goes the myth – and the bull fucking machine for some lady who spawned a Minotaur couldn’t be bothered with the likes of his father. He knew him only as the inventor of absence and fear.
Some boys take in their hands the udders of cows once they become a man, others take on the presidency of a wealthy insurance agency; some take up the cobbler’s trade, and others on Wall Street have their way paved. While there is a certain familial pride in falling in stride with father’s business, and though some people believe in fate and that we unconsciously wish for what we hate, Russ, we’ll call him for short, couldn’t trust his old man to keep him alive after he showed he could survive by following in his footsteps inventing buildings people couldn’t live in, objects no one is allowed to touch, and pictures and sketches only few knew how to read. See, Daddylouse didn’t take kindly to pupils besting his skills, so he’d teach them the thrill of getting killed, like his nephew who, as he grew, gathered commissions showing he’d mastered the profession only for Daddylouse to push him from a roof leaving behind significant proof enough to reverse his innocent plea to a conviction of guilty.
Instead, Russ, more out of love than pity, or was it pity than love, it’s hard to say, wanted to grow up his mother. Naucrate was her name, that alone she could claim. Not to be like his mother, mind you, because her life was nothing to emulate, neither peachy nor keen, but miserable and to merely commiserate would have been irresponsible.
She was a slave to the sweat shop sewing in the heat, cutting canvas and cotton standing on her feet, she didn’t have a seat, making sneakers and T-shirts for a land that didn’t give a shit about her or her kid but only about their new “sleds”. She’d come home late to her child who needed to eat while Daddylouse worked in his studio from the rising to the rising of the sun. She was the one who worked hard at both filling the wallet, and, like a gangster’s wife, helping her son dodge the bullet. She taught him to read, she taught him to sing, she taught him just about everything, except for how to become his Dad.
There were two women in his life: One a diagrammatic sketch in his mind of ideal perfection, proportional to the T – someone Henry Dreyfuss would have used as an example in his Measure of Man; the other he put on a pedestal, her broken body cheering him on in all of his endeavors, encouraging him to take the steps necessary to achieve his goals, to overcome any obstacles. Both women were one and the same, and he devised a plan to win her freedom.
As soon as he was old enough, he’d heard it could be done, he would cross the border to get an education and fill the order that his mother needed. AIDS had weakened her condition requiring a prescription. Daddylouse had put her out of commission sleeping around town to try to advance his position to satisfy his ambition, a lot like a politician but for the sake of art recognition, caring little for his wife who he thought of as only an anchor tied to his success with the unfortunate drag of a child.
Although she supported Russ’ quest to achieve the best for himself and his education, she wanted his trip across to be for his own cause. She didn’t want him to waste his life on her since one man had already wasted hers. Like an absentee mother deprived of watching her son grow up, Russ would have to make a choice whether to enjoy her today or live far away to give her a better life tomorrow. Would the sorrow he inspired be worth the money he wired? Or when they reunited, would she spite him for her loneliness, tell him the money was nice but not really care since she preferred that he’d stayed there? Who was to say she wouldn’t die while he was away making his earning useless with no one to pay? His Mother would get migraines if he emigrated thinking he was an ingrate for immigrating not understanding what he was demonstrating: the sun shines bright on both sides but always a little brighter over there while the shade covers up its horrors justifying the dream of tomorrows.
He’d take the handle, or the bull by the horns – whatever euphemism hides scorn – and cross the border against her order over the 700 miles of new fence, reminiscent of the Great Wall, or was it Japan that closed its borders? Didn’t that one fall? No, that was the Berlin Wall. Either way, it was centuries ago, no country could be that primitive any more. He’d make his way around, go underground, to buy her out of slavery as a factory worker, dish washer, grape picker, sickle swinging farmer, burger slinger, sheet rock hanger, metal banger, coffee grinder, babysitter, house cleaner, au pair, auto repair, short order cook, he’d get paid off the books by the pound, like in England, or like Shylock, giving an arm and a leg, a limb for a limb, until he’d lost enough to buy a mother.
So when Russ turned ten, Daddylouse got into some shady dealings constructing a secret warehouse with winding corridors and invisible doors filled with cocaine, guns, and whores, and even though he overbid the other contractors, he fixed his position by intimidating the corporation. This, combined with his nephew’s death, led to his final arrest. Ironically, he was imprisoned in the converted warehouse he put his energy and time in. Once inside, guards surrounded every exit and threw his son in there, too, following the logic that, “He’ll grow up to be just like you.”
His wife got sold deeper into slavery with a reduction of pay. She didn’t need a bigger salary since she no longer had a family. The state would pay their expenses, so she could work eighteen hours without compensations. She didn’t need a place of her own since sleeping alone for six hours didn’t satisfy the definition of “home.” Her meals were rationed from her performance vouchers, well exceeding her quota, earning extra coins per iota. She finally raised the standard number of production to levels that matched her ambition making her efforts fruitless for ever earning another bonus except again by over-achieving which would only spin her back into the web she was weaving. This made the other workers hate her, despise and berate her, and make up stories that her husband, who was now doing time, had raped her, calling her child the progeny of a crime, a little slime that could no longer climb since he’d been jailed too, a little jail bird, left to sing his own song, the blues, harmonizing with his ½ man ½ beast of a father. It wasn’t all not true.
Father with his kerchief and Russ with his cap had just settled down for a short prison nap. When out from the darkness Russ said to his dad, “If only I had wings, I could leave this land and fly into the sun.” For the rest of the night Daddylouse didn’t get any sleep. Enrapt with the metaphorical possibilities, he took the idea as his own and wrote the patent he would keep. He’d construct a pair of wings from tar and feathers to fly from his hole and bring his son along since he couldn’t leave him alone. Cold, cold-hearted, yes, but savage and selfish, not without purpose: He’d let the boy go first in case he got shot down. Russ being the less experienced flyer could set the distraction leaving Daddylouse ample time to escape without detection.
Once he escaped his trap the architect would find his wife to slap, take what money she had, stuff it in his pants, and leave her far behind to continue to suffer in assembly lines. Daddylouse would never come back for her, but Russ set this as his task to procure.
The plan the architect devised – ingenious in fact, fashioning wings with sap and pigeons from the windowsill and seagull feathers that fell to try to earn sympathy by demonstrating repentance through an act of self-humiliation – would allow him to walk away a free man wearing the advertisement of his wrong forgiven by those who didn’t know better that today a confession and a simple shower could wash off this kind of punishment leaving his body free from embarrassment. But no one knew what destiny held: if once his ass had been washed and hair had been gelled would his assets be tarnished and his business felled; his sculpture, home, architecture, and pride, his car and his horse tarred and feathered for all to deride; his person freed from the burn of pine tar, but his achievements burned from his many crime scars? Or would he become more renown for the tragedy that surrounded his biography because in order to imbibe creativity an audience needs to see someone bleed requiring the unhealthiest dose of pain before allocating the smallest amount of fame?
Russ knew nothing of his father’s destiny or immediate plot because he was dreaming of his room on the solar hot seat, the place where he and his mother would meet without fear of his father, in a place of their own, their house on the sun. He gave it an address, 1865 Solaris Drive (tied subconsciously to Lincoln’s murder marking the emancipation of his mother) and decorated it with bottles and sticks, a sickle and a sombrero, a softball and a Camaro (out back, you can only see it if you bend low, below the hill, buried by the seasons). On his front porch he’d sit in a rocker with his rifle because with a permit he could own it smoking at the mouth dripping molten hope into a dried coconut from a faucet of flowing aromatic oils and coffee flavors strained through the air cooking from the heat like deep fried turkey in a tube, smoked meat on a stick. Like a cigar, he’d pull on jerked hooves of venison and pork.
Tarred and feathered…he could have done better. But he would wear the coat of arms fashioned by the one who did him harm caramelized in sticky wings trying to make better things for his mother who deserved another chance to start over having lost in the slot machine pull and got the short straw in the dating pool. If he could make it through school, use it as a tool to make some life corrections by pushing it in two directions, one from here to her, the other from her to here, then the extra mile would be worth humiliation with a smile because he’d get the last laugh when they’re reunited at last. Yes, tomorrow he would fly into the sun, the son turn into a fly, and walk across the border to fill his higher order leaving his father behind stuck in his double bind.
The following morning, captured by the larger moment, he put down his pages of inspirational poetry and flew himself away to the song of some poet songwriter supreme, the words he’d read blending in his head:
At the count of 3, I hope I can disappear, and fly, fly away…
I’ll ride into the sun,
ride into a son.
At the count of 3, I hope I can disappear,
and fly into the sun.
I’ll burn up into a million pieces,
when I fly into a son.
I’m gassed, stoked, and ready to go,
I’ll fly into the sun.
I’ll break it up into a million pieces,
when I fly into the sun,
I’ll fly into the sun,
I’ll fly into a son.