- Harry Jensen
Gary Granger tried his best to take care of us, primarily to guard us from ourselves, as the old adage goes. As I write this, he is still the Director of Community Safety at my alma mater, just as he was over the four years during which I attended Reed College. Undergraduate gossip has it that Gary, the former chief of police at an air force base which was itself rumored to be touting nuclear weapons, was hired after a string of suicides and heroin overdoses started to give Reed a bad name in the public eye.
A few overdoses at a big state school leave a bad smell in the printing presses, but a drug-related death every other semester at a teensy private institution can make a big stink, especially when the endowment threatens to decompose. Reed also has the highest national rate of reported rapes per capita, and is neck and neck with another college in producing the most future PhDs. Swarthmore edges Reed out every couple of years in terms of nurturing the greatest number of budding doctorates in the nation, but it’s hard to beat us on the home turf of assault, suicide, and fatal drug abuse, as far as the stats go. Maybe this is why Reed declines to fill out a profile on U.S. News and World Report, and would rather leave the advertising to our Dean of Admission Milyon Trulove, a charming man who convinced me to go to Reed and was later alleged to have harassed a female coworker whose position was later vacated.
All this being common knowledge, as much as stoned adolescent speculation can indeed attain to be knowledge, Gary attempted to make himself a likable figure and maintain the internal perception of Reed being a community that is not policed but protected. My first encounter with Gary was in late August of 2015 during O-Week, the 5-day long orientation stint for incoming freshman. I was on the Great Lawn, a verdant field of goose excrement walled in by ancient trees, and I was playing hacky sack with my roommate Harris Johnson when Gary walked up in plain clothes and asked to join us. Community Safety Officers, or CSOs, are encouraged to be genial and engage with the students to encourage a sense of comfort and solidarity, perhaps to offset the less friendly appearance of the black paramilitary uniforms they typically wear when on patrol. Gary played with us a while and put me thoroughly to shame as his deft middle-aged chicken legs juggled the ball around, and explained he’d been learning since his daughter took up soccer. As I rued the absence of a daughter in my life who could motivate me to play hippy games, Gary bid us a professional adieu and handed each of us a trading card with his name on it, some stats, and a picture of him wearing 3-D glasses.
Under Gary’s iron direction, all the CSOs were given blue rubber bracelets and quirky personalized trading cards with Community Safety Information embedded or imprinted on them. The bracelets were cute, but I’m sure most of them were thrown away by the angsty eco-anarchist, anti-capitalist trust fund babies they were designed for, in some valiant attempt to abolish the institution of prison from within, or to convince one’s peers you aren’t a pussy ass narc. Printing out 1000 fashionable accoutrements with campus emergency numbers on them is a bit naïve in the era of smartphone supremacy, but I suppose Community Safety thought that they could be useful if a co-ed stumbles over a half-dead nerd having an epileptic fit in the canyon and does not want to bother pulling up their contact list or shouting too loud.
The trading cards were violently casual and forcefully silly, having the same overall success in establishing respect and reconciliation as the Federal Government would if they started printing clown noses on the domineering faces of American currency. In short, the strategy was not long in existence, and I only managed to gather three of these cards. I was quickly dissuaded from asking the officers for their cards both because it was unconscionably lame, and it was all but impossible to collect all the cards in circulation due to the perpetual egress and ingress of CSOs. The cool CSOs with big glasses and beer bellies were continually fired and replaced by small women with curt haircuts and a weighty employment history with the police.
One such firee was Neil C, whose card I still possess. His profiles him as a man who desires the superpower “Avocado,” would write his thesis on “What Makes the Perfect Guacamole,” and has hobbies ranging from golf, whiskey, and back to avocado. His picture is a selfie of him at the Oregon Coast with what appears to be a tremendous rock jutting out of the water some distance away from the beach, but, on further inspection, it is actually a megalithic avocado superimposed on the photo.
Sometime later, when Neil was fired for some allegedly innocent fraternizing with the students, a woman named Britt Hughes was hired on. I cannot recall meeting her by studying her trading card, but there’s something familiarly offputting about the picture of her in aviators and a wife beater, showing off a lacy tattoo circling around her clavicle which looks to be a sagging choker. Britt, I believe, was ex-police, and she listed her hobbies to be “Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga, Traveling, Hiking, Beer Tasting, and More!” It seemed imperative to CSOs, our veritably untrained protectorate force, that they let their wards know they, too, stand by the supposition that the habitual consumption of alcohol is equatable with arts and crafts. I for one do not need to be reassured that the same people policing my doobies and dumping my wine down the drain are going to be “tasting” a six-pack later, especially if their listed favored Greek deity is the God of archery, Apollo, who in modern terms is a hop, skip, and a jumpy hair-trigger away from being the Lord of Guns.
Gary’s is by far the most unable to register a singular tone, and definitely my favorite. is headlined by a quote by Isaac Asimov — “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.” Besides the usual stats, his card has the words Corvus Corax imprinted on it under his name. On Google’s honor, “Corvus Corax” refers either to the common raven, a Warhammer 40K fanfiction character, or a Neo-Medieval punk band from Germany, and I choose not to decide to which of these Gary pledges his allegiance and affiliation. Referencing a tradition which he himself instituted, Gary names his prospective thesis “4/20, Olde Reed, and Voodoo: Can Donuts Replace Doobies?” At both 4:20 A.M. and 4:20 P.M. on April 20th, Gary can be found in the Student Union overseeing the dispersal of hundreds of Voodoo Donuts to severely stoned undergrads. Again, I am not sure of the success qua Gary’s notion of success, but the promise of a free donut at dawn was more than enough incentive for me to drink all night and sniff Adderall into the early hours of a weekday. The coup de grace, however, why I love Gary’s the most, is his desired superpower: psychometry.
Psychometry means two things, one of them actually as interesting as the dictionary presents it to be. Psychometry is both the science of measuring mental capacities and processes, and, separately, the clairvoyant ability wherein physically touching something suddenly bestows the toucher with knowledge about an associated object or event, like if Proust had been a police dog. Giving Gary the benefit of the doubt and using my own deductive acuity, I have assumed he means he wishes to be some kind of supernatural Sherlock Holmes, one who presumably bellows radical bagpipe solos hearkening back to the smelliest and least romanticized era of Germanic history. I’ll leave the bag blasting to Norri, Xandru, and the rest of Corvus Corax, but the psychometry is appealing, and grappling with my inability to attain psychometrical powers has drawn me away from my grief-driven hoarding and into the parameters of this very project of temporary resurrection and ritual destruction, of remembering things past and burning the clunky bridges which lead to them to make way for sleeker paths that can be bound by pages and words and rid me of my heavy, graying, and aggressively ironic trifles.
I cannot exactly say why these cards made it this far, five years later, house after home after house, other than the obvious fact that I hesitated above the recycling bin and ferreted them away in my Kleenex box of a time capsule half a decade ago. I have trouble delineating compulsion and sentiment, and without the aid of stark symbolism or the memorial imprint of a dearly beloved, items such as these are left to wander in a paranoid, nostalgic purgatory between the lonesome shores of the past and the hopeful isles of a life worth reinventing in the vagaries of retrospection. Perhaps Gary will one day be my wife, or I will uncover the fact that my father faked his death in order to become the adjudicating Czar of all matters Title IX. Only time will tattle.
Other objects of mine, like the button for Gabby’s brand Pacify, have an overt emotionality inlaid into them, coated in a cloying pride as pungent as the black rubber tar of the foot-long dildo which has melted over and into most of my childhood treasures. (Dav Johnson, the dildo, was a gift from an ex-girlfriend and two closeted bisexual chums.) Pacify was founded by Gabby, her sister Maddie, and their friend Lisa while Gabby was still attending Hopkins High School and the other two were enrolled at the University of Minnesota. In its foundling stages, their brand was wielded with a decidedly feminist political thrust, which always made me think “Pacify” was a covert message urging the purging of all male oppressors worldwide, or at least Minnesota-wide. Hoping to be spared in the inevitable gendercide, I was always a big fan of Pacify and quietly envious, as I was all of my friends achieving and spreading their creation while still confined to the embryonic stages of education which precede the receipt of a high school diploma.
Gabby’s first go at fashion design was with my friend Fred, an egregiously homoerotic womanizer with expertly gelled hairs, a flashy gold-dipped Gibson guitar, and a closet of immaculate skater shoes on the cutting edge of good taste and a waste of rubber and canvas. Their brand, Idyll, had the benefit of a much gentler name, but soon devolved into a way to make money at Buckfest, a local music festival founded by Quincy and DJ Micropenis, Quincy being the name of Fred’s band and DJ Micropenis being the name of DJ Micropenis. I had been a vendor at Soundset, the Minneapolis-based hip-hop festival and largest of its kind at the time, so I took on the duty of selling Idyll and Buckfest apparel at three out of three Buckfests, appointing myself the honorary title of “Captain of Merchandise.” After Soundset, I had to flush my engorged front and back pockets of thousands of dollars of cash, but after each Buckfest I would be left with four full boxes of Nicaraguan cotton minus about a dozen or so t-shirts, half of which I drunkenly gave away for free, and all I had to relieve myself of was a sobering sense of guilt and the stink of another vendor who referred to both his stock and himself as “The Hesh.”
Though I have fallen out with or drifted away from most of the Xanned-out rappers and depressed, stony bass players from that desperate time of my life, I have a half-dozen tees, a hat with Lux’s brand “Fuego,” and a few buttons from that time of my life. The t-shirts have been resigned to the role of gym-wear, and the hat and buttons gather dust in my personal museum. I keep them partly out of a fondness and appreciation for those ludicrous, Daddy-funded festivals which maintained an astonishing deficit, but also as frayed connection to an illusory lifeline I may redeem as reality, my quietly aborted career as a rapper. Rap, in particular freestyling, is the secreted away form of self-expression that I have never been bold enough to represent myself through, though it is very dear to me, and I find myself most able to be honest about the darker aspects of my persona and history in ways that do not appear comfortably outside of improvisation or within the performative realm of comedy. My shyness is not without merit, if you’ve ever met me or seen my hair. My musical training is minimal, I have the timbre of a snobbish hamster, and presenting myself as a rapper has always seemed to me and others about as socially appropriate as Bill Gates rebranding himself as a gangbanging pimp in a Kangol bucket hat. The oppression, I say, it’s the oppression which keeps me forever staring nervously out of the cruel, white pigeonhole of argyle sweaters and begrudgingly accepted financial stability.
Buckfest memorabilia represents my periphery presence in a scene in which I desperately wanted to be celebrated in, sought after, and recognized for, and these items evoke in me a bittersweet stew of spoiled dreams. They sit in my closet, stinking of mildew, must, withering hubris, and, of course, dildo ooze.
The Pacify button is of the same era, but drips with a stronger emotional syrup that I carried with me to Portland. I pinned it and nothing else to the backpack my father bought me for my last birthday — well the last one he was around for. In college, I typically dressed as if method acting for the role a burlap sack that has been worn down by decades of oat-bearing, but I loved the audacity of the button’s bright pink background, the fat lunar font, the theistic yellow hand reaching up to grasp the head of what is either a budding tulip or a flame. Living my life in the Northwest as the only spokesman for my Midwestern past, I shied away from sharing my past with Buckfest, ashamed that I might be suggesting a life of expression which I never really cultivated. But I boasted the button, lauded Gabby, and bragged about how my dear friend transformed and upcycled all things denim from the select few Goodwills which were not privy to her environmentally friendly shoplifting habits. I was and am proud of her as someone separate from my past and predilections, a love unsullied by wayward ego-trips about cracker rap stardom. I have kept it for her, and my admiration of her powers of expression.
I’ve always been besotted with the beautiful, and I’ve always wanted to be able to make beautiful things. Oration and writing can be humorous and elegant, but my entrenchment in language has rendered my own creations within it bland and woefully familiar, like an endless loaf of bread I keep reshuffling fruitlessly. All of the art art I have ever made the mistake of making was directly mandated by the Hopkins School District, little assignments in drawing and sculpting and pastel rubbing that were obligatory reminders that we, as children, might have the human potential to rise ever so slightly above the ability to regurgitate facts about Pueblos and the American Revolution from tattered social studies textbooks. In terms of contributing to the development of my motor skills and self-esteem, art class had much the same effect as gym class, convincing me only that I was adopted and my true parents were mentally ill capuchin monkey with a talent for multiplication, and I should fall in line accordingly.
In elementary school, I would return home with sheets of crumpled, crayon-molested construction paper which Mizz Mader mercifully dubbed “art,” and throw them on the dining room table like I was a criminal defense lawyer and these garish messes were the notes for a case where I had inadvertently argued my client out of community service and into death row. My accursed parents were indelibly proud and would stoke the burning bowels of my shame by placing little clay figurines on the windowsill and hanging my paintings and pictures on the wall, which to me felt like they were bronzing the first pair of jean shorts I ever shat myself in and celebrating it as my greatest achievement to date. To make matters worse, the art program had not been revamped for quite a while, so my projects were placed directly next to the very same projects my incredibly talented and budding artistic genius of a brother had created four years earlier. Trying to find equal merits in, say, both my brother’s clay self-sculpture and my horrifying miscarriage of a Wallace & Gromit villain is about as realistic as feeling the same verve for life from both a tadpole and a cum stain on a McDonalds napkin.
When my parents split up, my mother ended up with the vast majority of me and my brother’s artwork. I’m not sure exactly how they decided who would take what. Maybe my mother was simply the first to squirrel away her children’s art while she and my father were packing up my first home, or maybe my father traded them in exchange for custody over his favorite oven mitts, I don’t know.
I was only eight at the time of my parent’s divorce, which left me another of decade of aggrandizing my brother’s vibrant talent through comparison to my sagging, stillborn portraits. Because I stayed with her during weekdays, most of my art projects were cast with scorn and disowned on my mother’s living room table, which happened to be the same table from my first home, now transplanted a few blocks away to a smaller museum of my colored pencil disappointments, an archive thicker with my brother’s masterpieces and my unfortunate mutations.
Very few pieces of work were kept by my father for this reason, but he would get the chance to see them during the yearly Meadowbrook Elementary open houses. He may have seen it there, or it may have ended up at his house after being purged from the bottom of my backpack, but he somehow ended up with a set of five drawings of an apple I made when I was about 10 years old. Mizz Mader had been teaching us about three dimensional drawings, how to draw perspective lines and the shadows which would fall off an object illuminated by an imagined light source. My three-dimensional figures, for the most part, look like they had been drawn by a toddling Picasso during a violent epileptic fit, and why shouldn’t they? Humanity got along for tens of thousands of years before some dandy prick in the Renaissance days figured out how to draw in three dimensions, and now I, still grappling with the concept of division, was expected to make a portfolio of cityscapes and object studies? I would rather they reinstitute corporal punishment, but all the paddles were locked away by then, and I was doomed to shade fruit bowls in seething self-loathing.
To my surprise, the apple paintings turned out well. I still remember drawing the middle apples, the realistic red one with a white background of horizontal lines which made it look like a mugshot of an otherwise good apple. The other apples were just okay, which was itself a personal artistic victory without precedent. I couldn’t get the shading right on the pencil-drawn apple, and the smeared lines of pastel and watercolors used to illustrate the blue and green apples seemed to hint that the author was a colorblind owl with glaucoma. The purple apple is alright, but the bizarre green and orange orbs I drew in the background make it look like it is drawn on an alien planet. After some years, this bad apple fell off the pallid brown branch of construction paper all five were attached to, leaving behind a dark space with small, yellowing panels of tape which altogether resembled the mostly broken window of an abandoned factory.
But the apple in the middle: it was good. It would have made me some kind of prince’s courtier if it were commissioned in the 15th century, or at least a highly respected pet jester. It was a fine apple, despite the criminal history the background suggested, and because of it the whole bough of pensive apples ended up on my father’s kitchen wall, next to a picture of a flat looking, blue and slightly birdish cat my brother had drawn when he was seven. My brother — the fool at last! Adam’s cat had red eyes and rounded feet, like an amputee, and there were no shadows on the bowl of fruit illustrated next to it — victory! I had won, bested my brother, kindly ignoring the fact that whatever abomination I had made when I, too, was seven had not survived the post-divorce relocation. Sure, Adam’s was framed behind glass, but mine was masterful, not a neo-medieval picture of an alien raven feline, but a raw piece de Renaissance.
Despite the relative victory over the cat manatee, my garish paintings of exoticized, sci-fi apples clashed with the finer décor my Dad kept around. Splayed across his walls, my father displayed expressionist paintings depicting bustling street scenes, Guernica, verdant landscapes rolling before delicate penciled penumbras, impressionist portraits and adept prints of gothic buildings made by my godfather, and even a romantic photograph of a dancer caught mid-leap, a rare celebration of feminine wiles for a man who set The Emperor’s Theme as the ringtone for his ex-wife. Everything on the wall was tasteful and beautiful and delicate and strong, accented by beeswax candles dripping over ceramic chambersticks and colorful vases of marble and horsehair, all arranged around softly cornered Danish furniture.
And then there were the apples.
Torn, tattered, and wrinkling as if they had been submerged in water for a dozen fortnights, the apples looked flat and dead on my father’s wall, hanging from threadbare strips of tape and fluttering like bodies in the steady current of air from the ventilation unit. They stared at me during my residency at my father’s house, these flat and half-lit faces wan and waning as the landline below them gathered dust and faded out of technological relevance. In time, the apples began to taunt me.
“Yes,” they would say in chorus, cores rumbling, “we beat the blue and scaly cat bird: but what about the Picasso replica, the antique Japanese oil paintings, the hyperbolic paraboloid of oak that you have to heave across the living room whenever you vacuum?”
From then on, it seemed my parent’s cruelty was alive and well in my father’s fiefdom. I knew it and the apples knew it.
Years passed, my father passed, and the spirit of home passed through my house. When we cleared the house out, we donated ill-fitting shorts and pants, argyle sweaters and Italian suits, we threw away warped bookshelves and mold-spackled cabinets, and attempted to sell boardgames and fine china and silverware and books and framed posters at a barely advertised garage sale. But the art we could not bear to get rid of. The largest and heaviest and most precious we kept in the basement, safely away from the Cheeto encrusted fingers of our future renters; my godfather’s best paintings were ferried from Minneapolis to Portland in Lucas’ green mini-van, a half dozen oil paintings wrapped in four sheets of bubble wrap and two blue and yellow layers of lovingly duct taped shower towels. The least desirable pieces were given away as tokens to family and friends of my father.
When I left for Portland with a swollen sedan full of clothes and keepsakes and my father’s urn and dear Maude, I left home for the last time. I said goodbye to midnight smoking in an empty and twinkling Aquila Park, I said goodbye to the tree out front that was slowly falling into the house and was to be executed the next day, and I said goodbye to a shred of godlessness as the sewer under our house broke and the dry July asphalt burst open in rebirthed rainwater. But I did not say goodbye to the apples.
I know now. I know why I kept the apples, why they’ve followed me in the same box which I keep love notes from stalkers and my deceased grandfather’s cobalt cufflinks. I kept them for my father. Not out of compulsion, but for the sake of my love for him, and for the sake of his love for me.
My father kept the apples not because they brought the room together or as a lesson in humiliation for the benefit of his lobster-handed spawn, but because he loved me. He was proud of me, boasted me, lauded me as his little winky capable of dragging a pencil in a roundish way. He stapled the apples to the wall for the same reason I lapeled Gabby’s button to my backpack: for her, to celebrate her, regardless of my fear that she was stoking a rebellion against this scrumptious patriarchy.
We keep things for other people, worn and weary things that linger with a sweet memory or a timeless whiff of devotion. I kept the cards for Gary as an empty investment in someone I might get to know, someone who might one day bust me for drugpinning, choking me out while he adjusts his 3-D glasses. I kept the button for Gabby, for Pacify and the death of all men. My father kept the apples for me, for his love of me. So why did I keep the apples after he passed? Here it is: I kept my apples not for me, but for him, who kept it for me, and therefore I kept them for me. A perfect, hopeless paradox.
I am buried in my father, incinerated and sitting in the urn on my nightstand. My father kept his stories and his sons’ stories within his story, within himself, and he lived in us, too. Part of me was destroyed when he was, and part of him was ripped away from me when he died, but I still have some, and so do these apples. Within them exists a circle of love in which they are a capsule of pride, kept by me for me for my Dad keeping them for me. Simple as that.
As I prepare to immolate this raggedy scroll of my father’s love, I am scared that I will be setting flame to a living part of myself, a part of my father still reverberating through me and the apples. Perhaps, like I hoped after freshmen year that the trading cards would one day remind me of a then unknowable adventure to come, my father hoped the apples would be the first ancestor in a lineage of an evolving body of heightening artistic work. Unfortunately, the next thing of any artistic merit I would bring home from school was a misshapen bong I had found in the confiscated cubby of the art room closet. The apples were not in the medium of my Renaissance, and this project itself is only in the corvus coraxian stages of bringing me anymore freedom of living expression. My paintings and prose both culminate in flat pages, ink-stained tree skins susceptible to age and weather and slipping out of clutch in the whirlwind passage of people and marriages. I am scared I am losing a part of him, and I can accept the consequences if these pages are not sufficient memorials for the fruity pages which precede them by a dozen years. If I could have anything, just one thing to put my pain at rest as I carry out my long life without him, I would beg of the fates that I could ask my Dad one, final question.
“How did you like them apples?”