Me and MOM IN LONELY MUDVILLE
an excerpt from Book 2
The transition between grade school and high school is a big jump for everyone, made much worse for me as my home changes from my familiar childhood neighbourhood to an empty new house far away in a desolate subdivision at the very edge of town.
The summer of 1974, the summer I turn fourteen, Mom and I move into 14 Turner: away from a bustling, familiar, and sometimes chaotic neighbourhood to one of intense and lonely emptiness – just the two of us.
For my mom, buying this new house is the pinnacle of everything she has worked for since running away from her family farm to a life of poverty in the big city. As a single mom in her early forties, for the first time in her life, she no longer has a landlord – she can do anything she wants in her own space. She is a proud home-owner. Always obsessed with number patterns, she sees great hope in moving into 14 Turner in ’74 when I’m fourteen.
For me, the idea moving into a new house is exciting, but this one is unsettling for its desolate location, far away from everything and everyone I know.
We aren’t even within Regina city limits; the main north-south street of Fleet is the eastern edge of city limits and we’re beyond that. The house title says we’re in “Glencairn Village.”
There are no paved streets, only rutted trails in the muddy gumbo soil passable only with large trucks and construction vehicles; a firetruck or an ambulance couldn’t get to our house even if they tried. There are no trees or yards or streetlights or mailboxes or stores or schools. Our new house is one of a few scattered haphazardly on this former farmer’s field; it truly looks like that 1884 photo of early Regina.
Every time I want to leave 14 Turner, I pick up my runners by the front door, put on hightop rubber boots, and stumble the half-mile in the mud to Fleet Street where I hide my boots in a bush and change into my runners. I’m now in the real world and in the real city. I either walk to the nearest bus stop or walk the entire three miles to Miller High School, passing through my old neighbourhood near the end.
At the end of the day, I walk with my fellow grade nine friends the short distance along College Avenue from school to my old neighbourhood, breaking away from everyone to walk alone the final miles to my new neighbourhood (if it can be called that.)
Entering our echoey, empty new house, stepping down the plywood stairs into the cindercrete basement and my makeshift bedroom to read and memorize National Lampoon magazines or read my big sister’s copy of Lenny Bruce’s semi-autobiographical ‘How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,’ with my comedy albums of Smothers Brothers, Cheech & Chong, Monty Python, Lenny Bruce, Martin Mull, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen all awaiting their turn on the stacking spindle of my record player, dropping for a continual play of comedy in my lonely room.
My only comedy interruption is hours later when Mom yells at me from the top of the stairs that supper is ready. Each weekday she returns around 5:30 after a full day of teaching to make us a crappy meal. We eat in silence together at the kitchen table, heads turned to watch the CKCK-TV News on the big console television at the far end of the living room.
I usually finish first, rinse off my plate, place in the dishwasher, and go downstairs to be with my funny friends. She spends the evening alone in her office grading papers and preparing for the next day’s lessons.
She never complains about the idiot laughter below. She in her silent office, me downstairs with Tom, Dick, Cheech, Tommy, Lenny, Martin, Lily, Bob, and Woody. As other fanatical teens listen to the same music albums over and over again, I do with my comedy albums.
The reason I try to memorize every word of every issue of National Lampoon magazine (when it was funny: 1973-75) is in case I’m invited to a party and am surrounded by beautiful babes aching for me to say something witty. I’m prepped. I’m ready. I even have a few cheat-notes in my back pocket.
I squirm during one scene while watching the 2019 film, The Joker, with Joaquin Phoenix. His mentally unstable character in the 1970s has his tiny apartment’s living room set up to resemble a popular late night TV talk show and, in his lonely insanity, pretends he’s on the real show.
I sat there hoping I’m not the only real person to do that.
One half of the cold cindercrete unfinished basement of my mom’s house has a furnace, a washer and dryer, several large freezers, a stand-alone shower, and many wooden shelves of canned goods. The other half has my waterbed surrounded by tie-dyed curtains, outside of which are my mom’s old couch and chairs and coffee table I’ve angled along a wall to resemble ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’
I appear as often as Steve Martin does — Johnny equally impressed with both of us.
I shudder to think of how many hours I spend waiting back-stage (behind the shower curtain) to hear my name announced, then bounding on stage to do my hilarious act by the wooden stairs. Afterwards, Johnny always calls me over to sit and chat on my mom’s couch, me killing the audience with witty quips on mood rings, pet rocks, Rubik’s Cube, PEZ candy, and the stupid fucken asshole pricks at my high school.