They say that every generation has a gap. Well, I was born in one: the downtown one on Market Street, to be specific. My mother went into labor while she was inspecting a two-tone blazer for spots, and then she started seeing spots everywhere, and almost went down the easy way before some handy store clerk came to the rescue and held her hand while she lay in the aisle between jumpers and slacks, asking her between contractions, “Are you sure you only want one of those? There’s fifty percent off on the second if you’d care for two.” Unfortunately my mother, who thought he was talking about the tiny human being about to be unleashed from her belly, told him that just one was enough for her, and so really missed out on that half-off sale. This was an apt way for my life to begin, as my mother probably blamed me for this missed opportunity, and, as with all future par-for-the-course lowly outcomes in the severance package that became her life, I was at fault for it all. Terrible timing, as always, I just had to pick that very moment to force myself into her life, to interrupt her mid-shop with my petulant whines as I emerged from her soft, safe womb to be plunged into the corrupt and dangerous world of people. An ambulance arrived just in time to chop the umbilical cord. I was free, at last, to do as I pleased with this life I’d been so lucky to have been given. But free to do what? Take my first ambulance ride, apparently. My mother gave her credit card to the clerk for the blazer as the paramedics carted her away on a stretcher, telling him, “Just hold it here for me. I’ll be back for it this evening.” The clerk, who somehow was under the impression that she was referring to her newborn, nodded his approval and took me into his arms, gently rocking me back and forth and cooing to me as he stood behind the counter. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy as I was then. But, alas, as with all good things, it was not to last, and the paramedics swindled me back to my mother’s breast where I lay and whimpered until the sirens started up and drowned everything out. I never even got a name.
I ended up spending my formative years in a carnival while my mother bided her time in and out of mental institutions. There was a code in her head that she just couldn’t seem to crack, and none of the specialists they brought in to try their hand at it ever had any luck either. And so, as for yours truly, I was left to fend for myself among the clowns and the strongmen and the freaks. It was anyone’s guess who my father was, and so all the men around said it was someone else who’d done the job. I learned how to tie dozens of esoteric knots and mend outfits and got a few magic tricks down. The bearded lady taught me my manners. The funambulist showed me the ropes of being a man. I fell quite often.
I received a letter from my mother one afternoon when I was nine. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in years. I couldn’t read, so I had the barker read it to me. I can still hear that stentorian voice of his ringing in my ears as he plowed through it like it was an advertisement for a new show:
“My son, my son. There are grapes in the vegetable garden of my demise. Bestow what perchance lucidity gave to your hassle and tries on me. Soon? I am often guarded with heliotrope’s famous robes. As for you. Oh. Dear. For once I will castigate without an ear to hear back with. Chop’s its only slice. Still, who are we to be banging out another new year with a different tribe? Place back. Yes. That too. I still whisper about your name when they come to strap me in for the night. Who were you then? Who will I be now? Without you I fall into white flowers, continuously. The marsh in me forever sinking. Too many years will have gone by, and to whom do we toast in these nameless days? What is yours without the sound of my voice to say it? Dear. Dear son. I am holy if not sincere. Be well. Or just be.
— a mother.”
So. Without a name attached to me, I crept on in the spotlight’s shadow.
You might know me as Catapult Clyde. And you surely have heard of my daring exploits as Simon The Sniveling Sot. Surnames have eluded me for the length of my days. I am piloting too many egos to have a permanent solution to my titular explorations. My family is a mystery to me. I am out here on my own to make my way, without a name to my name, as they might say if they could. Be that as it may, or may not, you can call me all the names in the book. I’m ambivalent about it at best.
If the things you do for a living attract enough attention from enough other people, you can then earn money from doing those things. People must want the things that you produce in large enough numbers to sustain you. The problem with me is that I never at one time have enough of the things that people want. Sign here. Sign there. That’s what they tell you. Always giving too much, not getting much back. I do what I must and kvetch onward.
I finally wrote her back the other night. Want to hear it? Well, here it goes:
“Mother, oh, mother, where have you been? I’ve been living under this tent since I was old enough to sneeze. The circus dust it rises, just like you don’t from the dead, again, and again. Said goodbye to the fail-safe crows and the broken-faced doves, for you. And the world’s a pie’s flight to a face, and the sky’s so blue that it hurts to look up, that fluttering terrycloth blue that stings your eyes as you scan for signs of cloud. I get only sand and strings of things here. The cots are all on fire, and all I’ve got are buckets of confetti. Mother? Mother. Who are we here to doubt the Ferris wheel of the world is spinning? I stand on solid ground and am anything but. Let’s pick apart our worst notions together over soda the color of oil. Parting is the sourest joy when all the elephants have been grazing on penny candy. As if I could get fresh with the dislikes of you. Me? I am snickering all the way to the five-and-dime. You could say ‘what’s left’ but that would imply that there was something there to begin with. I am lonely. Who knows what will become of me in the apses of this here oblivion’s torn fabric. The trapeze artists want me dead. Please tell the roses that I do not miss them. All of this is a lie…until you believe it. There you have it, whatever ‘it’ ends up being.
— a son.”