Friday, September 28, 2012
The Dizzy by Jeff Phillips
I am just going to check it for one second, I tell myself all afternoon. But I don’t bring myself to do it because it is frowned upon to check your text messages while camping. Even if it is barely camping. We’re staying in a motor home with my two Uncles. They treat it like a time share. My Dad treats it like the third world. “We’re roughing it!” he declares as he puts a six pack in the mini fridge on board. A lot of cigarillos are sparked. I’m not old enough to smoke with them. Apparently I’m not old enough for a cell phone either. But my Mom pushed for it awhile back and my Dad chides me for having one. He didn’t have one when he was a kid. He only finally got one a year ago, for business. Now we all have one. Myself, my Dad, my Mom, and my two baby sisters. They’re twins, 9 years old. Mom still calls them the babies. They use their cell phones more than I do. When they check them, they check them at the same time. I usually make fun of them and ask them questions. Who are you texting? Are you texting each other? Are you texting the same exact person? They scoff at me and tell me to shut the fuck up. I’m just curious. I can’t imagine them having individual friends and I can’t imagine friends treating them like individuals. It’s like biology and genes with drunk double vision.
On our way to this wilderness that is someone’s big back yard parked with campers and fire pits and shower stalls, we stopped at a sea food place. We sat at the table and all placed our cell phones next to our salad forks as though it were also some essential utensil. The phones all started going off at once. We laughed, like at how crazy it was but all of the other patrons looked at us like we were annoying. But I went to the bathroom at one point and one of the dudes that glared at us was talking on his cell phone and taking forever in the stall because he was talking business. My Dad called me while I was waiting to use the stall to see if I was okay.
Three days into the camping trip I feel the urge to check my text messages. We were ordered by my Dad to power our phones down during this outing. We got this whole lecture about how we should appreciate nature. Nature? These power lines running above our heads really do nature justice. Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows does not make us like the cavemen.
I finally get agitated enough to sneak a cigarillo from Dad and make off into this little patch of woods on the far end of the yard. But I also figure if I’m going to cave and go smoke I might as well check my text messages. So I do. I sneak in my little duffel bag to grab my cell phone. One of my Uncles walks in and asks me what I’m doing. I stutter and then say that I’m looking for my book about stars so I can go look at some. He gets excited and wants to see it and wants to know what year it was published because a lot of new stars have been discovered,and perhaps he can show them to me because the book might be obsolete. He smells like Hershey bar as he hovers over me. I then say I guess I forgot it as he watches me pretend to look for it. He says too bad but he’ll show me the stars anyway. I say I’m going to use the bathroom. He recommends that I go pee in the patch of woods to get a sense of the outdoors. I say good idea! And I find the right second when he bends down to the mini fridge, grab my cell phone, slip it in the front pocket of my faded swim trunks and make off to the patch of woods, excited to finally get away from everybody.
For a second it seems Uncle Todd is going to join me and I say oh fuck, but he gets a call on his Blackberry.
I hustle to the patch of trees and lurk behind a cluster as not to be seen and light up the cigarillo. I then power up my phone and it takes forever. While the AT&T logo swivels many times I look out at this other family. A Mommy, Daddy, Brother, and Sister sitting around a campfire by a tattered tent. For avsecond I’m jealous that they get to do real camping, in a tent, but then I see some tweens next to them blasting pop punk from a boom box. I then feel sorry for this family. But then I see them talking to each other with hand gestures, like sign language. They mouth sloppy words. I take a deep drag from the cigarillo and look back to make sure Uncle Todd hasn’t followed me out here.
I think one of these kids must be a deaf mute, so everybody else has adapted to talk sign language, so they can all be consistent in their communication to one another. So the kid doesn’t feel left out because he can’t hear Mommy and Daddy talk or something. Like how I always felt when Dad would call Mom while he was traveling for business and I could only overhear Mom’s side of the conversation.
This family is just jibber jabbering away with their hands! It’s very difficult to figure out who the deaf one is and who is adapting to sign language for whose sake. The kids, as little as they are, seem pretty proficient with it, so I think maybe one of the parent’s is the deaf one, that they were just raised into this mode of conveying thought. And I feel kind of bummed out for the kids because it seems like maybe the parents are holding the kids back from learning to speak and that seems kind of selfish on the parent’s part. Just because they can’t talk themselves! Maybe it’s hereditary and none of them can actually talk. Can it be hereditary? That seems like a weird repetition of genes. Biology stumps me.
I keep dragging from the cigarillo and the frantic hand play of this family is really tripping me out. I haven’t had a cigarillo in like two weeks so the nicotine is buzzing me up. I flick the cigarillo into some dirt and kick it into the ground.I am dizzy as shit going down a hole. I look back at my family in the distance. Both of my Uncles are now on their Blackberries.
My cell phone finally powers up and I am so damn disappointed. There are no text messages waiting for me. I sit on a stump and stare at the deaf mute family. They’re smiling. I’m trying to figure out if maybe there is a hand sign for laughing. Then my phone starts to ring and I see that my Dad is calling me. Why is he calling me? I ignore it after a few rings.
And man, I realize now that is a dead give away I am rejecting it. Seems like a sneaky test.
I’m very much wigging out. The cigarillo buzz is making my brain pulse.
The deaf parents are such dicks I think, limiting their children to just hand play and mumbling, making it their world, their way, comfortable, narrow. I want to yell out for the tiny kids to speak up and make their voices heard! But I swallow a mosquito and cough. I calm down and spit. And I can’t help but fixate on how different that family is from mine.
Having grown up in Maine, Phillips moved to Chicago to pursue dreams of becoming a method actor. After running a storefront theatre company into the ground, he found writing prose to be cathartic, and shifted his focus to writing stories and scripts over abusing his body for "the role." In 2010, he work-shopped his play Bosto at the DCA Studio Theatre in Chicago as part of their Incubator Series in 2010 with the XIII Pocket Collective. His short fiction has appeared in Seeding Meat and Bellows and has released two novellas; Whiskey Pike: A Bedtime Story for the Drinking Mankind, and Turban Tan. He is a member of Wood Sugars Comedy.
Street art by Wing.
Photo by Adam Lawrence.
Angel Olsen is an amazing Chicago singer/songwriter who just released a new album called Half Way Home.