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Thursday, September 10, 2009

May I Axe You a Question?

One time, when I was a young boy, I took an axe to my parent's basement wall.

To this day, I don't know why.

If you looked at me back then, a sweet-faced little boy with a Moe Howard haircut who sucked his thumb for far too long, collected a variety of "endangered species" high-quality stuffed animals and who wore monochromatic sweatsuits until the fifth grade, you wouldn't necessarily expect the young me to have been capable of such an act.

And yet, I did it.

My sister and I were home alone and she was watching television in the basement. I wandered into the laundry room and, well, there was that axe. There was already a hole in the basement wall, from some other incident long ago-- probably my uncle took an axe to the wall back in the 1960s, you know, just to try it out. The hole penetrated the innermost layer of the basement wall, and created a crater that stopped at the actual foundation wall, which was solid stone so it's not, if you looked at our house from the street you'd have seen a big fucking hole-- it was mostly cosmetic.

Well, I thought, that looks like fun. Maybe I'll give it a whirl.

The axe was very heavy, I remember. I was very weak, of course. I remember that, too. My arms were spindly, and rather resembled a pair of brittle twigs. As my delicate fingers curled around the wooden handle of the axe, I can remember thinking one thing:

"What the hell am I doing?"

I didn't have an answer for myself. And I knew what I was about to do was wrong-- very, very wrong. I knew my parents were going to see what I'd done, and I knew they weren't going to give me a pat on the shoulder for it, or raise my allowance, or proudly race to the kitchen wall phone to tell my Bubba about it. I knew my bombastic, Israeli father was going to have a volcanic reaction to my act of mayhem. I knew all of those things.

But I did it anyway.

And I didn't do it just once, either. I did it, um, several times. Okay, maybe it was more than several. I guess it depends on whether your definition of "several" is literal or flexible. Maybe nine times or so. I remember the soft, sinking sound the axe made as it went through whatever material our inner basement wall was constructed of-- asbestos, probably. It was so satisfying, that softness, that feeling that I was deconstructing something, making a mark, if you will, that I kept on doing it. Who knows how long I would have gone on if my wanky little arms hadn't gotten tired?

That night, when my parents got home, they sat me down at the dining room table. I was in tears before they said anything. They demanded to know why I'd done what I'd done. That seemed reasonable to me, but I couldn't think of any reason why I did that to the basement wall. Likewise, I couldn't for the life of me form a rationale as to why I'd taken a graphite golf club my father had bought me in a desperate attempt to interest me in sports and made holes in my dresser with it. I also could not explain why I had destroyed some very expensive, expertly-crafted die-cast model cars that I pined for endlessly until I had them. At least I hadn't decided to give Ollie, my stuffed ostrich, an emergency appendectomy with my Ziggy pencil.

Unable to think of anything to say for myself, I resorted to the truth.

"She was supposed to be watching me," I said about my sister.

My mother pulled out the ultimate emotional body-block by telling me that she was "disappointed" in me, which is arguably the most crushing thing a mother can think to say to her child. It worked. Fresh, hot tears careened down my cheeks and I darted from their sight, slamming my bedroom door, which also bore a hole from the old nine iron, behind me.

A couple weeks later, my father took me on a special little trip. We went to Penny Wise Thrift Shop and he bought a large set of old, chipped, crappy dishes for 50 cents. I asked him what they were for, and he didn't tell me. We just got back in the car and he drove us away. We drove through the suburbs, watching the stately oak trees and the strong, stone houses pass by us through the windshield. As we neared our destination, my father turned to me and said,

"I know you like to destroy things, mummy, and that's okay. You just have to know what is okay to destroy, and what isn't. Today," he said, "we're going to break all these fuckin' dishes."

My eyes lit up.

He pulled the white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera into the Koegel Public Works Complex, better known as "The Dump" to us locals and he backed that car up to an enormous pit filled with all manner of broken windows and split pieces of lumber, fucked up toys and old chairs and Christ knows what else, but my God did it smell. Sweaty dudes with scratchy beards and plaid shirts were wearing work gloves as they heaved undless piles of roofing shingles and old siding from out the backs of their Ford F-150s. My father pulled the paper bag containing all of the dishes out of the car.

"Go ahead. Break them all," he said.

And I fucking did. I'll never forget the first one. I threw it like a frisbee and it glided through the air and smashed to oblivion against the cold dump wall, its pieces flying in dozens of directions as it made that beautiful breaking noise. Within three minutes, the bag was empty. My father even threw a few himself.

"That was great!" I exclaimed. And he gave me a big hug. A real father loves his kids, even when they're crazy.

Of course, I don't think I was really crazy, and I don't think he thought that either. I think my parents figured out something very important, and they did it without the help of pop psychologists or talk show hosts or self-help books. I think they figured out that sometimes young boys just need to break shit.

I love the hell out of my parents. They did a great job with all three of us wackjobs, and they're doing great with their first grandchild already.

And, all these years later, I still love going to the dump.


  1. I love this story. When I was a little girl, I was arguing with my Daddy about whatever things 10 year old girls argue about. He made me super angry, and I was doing dishes, so I grabbed his favorite whiskey glass and threw it to the ground with all the force I could muster. Unfortunately, it had a heavy bottom that dented the hardwood floor before smashing to smithereens. I got my ass beat for denting the floor. Girls like to break stuff too. Almost ten years ago, I had the occasion to beat the living shit out of the switchboard I had answered for the past year. It was better than sex. Well, almost.

  2. That's a funny twist at the end. I didn't expect your dad to tell you to break plates. That's the total opposite of my father. Hmmm.

    I'm sure there's some Freudian analysis about all this destruction, but seeing as I don't really like Freudian analysis, somebody else will have to tell you what it is.


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