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In the Shower in Our Clothes / Last Show

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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My earliest memory is of inching down a wood floored hallway following a white plastic robot only slightly smaller than I. When I think of this memory the hallway seems enormous, unbelievably long and tall. I don’t understand what the robot is - it feels alive to me, of its own volition, not a toy. I mentioned this to my mom once and she placed it at her friends’ house near Long Beach. If I remember correctly my parents and these friends met in Lamaze class and, for years, they would always meet at this particular bar on New Year’s Eve for 32oz schooners of ice cold beer. Literally ice cold, with little ice crystals floating in the top and big jars of yellow-green pickled eggs sitting like preserved medical oddities on the counter. Wood paneling abound, the many speckled mustaches of the ex cops and retired plumbers push-brooming bubbles from the enormous glasses. I have been to this bar many times and it is always exactly the same, although they famously switched from PBR to Busch maybe 6 years ago. Scandal. I have played Canadian tabletop shuffleboard there with my brother and my uncles on many occasions (the rules are different - you’re required to ricochet off the felt siding). One of my uncles went there before his wedding - he was wearing a white tuxedo jacket and grinning from ear to ear. One summer - or was it over Christmas - me and my two buddies from high school met there for a drink on our way up to a night out in LA proper. We drove at incredible speeds up the 405 blasting footwork and swerving through traffic. I think we went to a bookstore and a Korean restaurant and I was home by midnight, we really went all out. But it felt so strange to be there without our parents, without my brother who is much older. We had - suddenly, it felt - entered the world of adults. We were three men drinking beers of our own volition, paying with our own money, conveying ourselves from place to place. Speaking of my brother and of my own volition. There was this great bowling alley we used to go to all the time on Harbor Boulevard called Kona Lanes. It was lightly tiki themed and, I think on Tuesdays, you could bowl for a dollar a game. I was even in a bowling league there when I was maybe 10 - I got a trophy for being the “most improved.” I wonder where that trophy went. By the way, have you ever participated in a bowling league? My experience of it was surprisingly lonely. I’d go there on Saturday afternoons - I think my Dad took me - and I’d bowl my four games in my own lane and dutifully write down my score on my little sheet. None of the relaxed jocularity of a normal bowling game, where you’re talking shit and alternating turns on the lane. This was almost monastic with no one even to notice when you got a strike. For the life of me I can’t recall what the other bowlers in my league looked or sounded like - I know we had a party at the end of the season but they are all swept clean from my mind. So there was this great bowling alley, we all mourned it went it was knocked down (and the signs in a museum in Cincinnati now, my friend Max sent me a pic once). And when I got to be about 14 I started going to see bands there - they had this one incredible group that sounded exactly like the first couple of years of the Who, very mod, and they’d play there I think every Friday night. It was the coolest thing I knew of in my immediate area. I had just started high school and I’d get some buddies to meet me there and we’d half-heartedly bowl and then boogie very earnestly to the band. They didn’t even have a stage. They just set up directly on the carpet behind the lanes, actually very punk rock come to think of it. So this was a regular thing. And once I was walking to get something from the snack bar and I heard this god awful version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” coming from the bar (you know how there are bars inside of bowling alleys? Now that I’m thinking of it I feel this probably speaks to the dark heart of America, repression and nesting eggs and leisure activities). So I popped my head in to see what was going on and saw my brother and his buddy, both wearing American flag bandanas, going completely apeshit on this song. In all my time fucking around in public, mostly at malls up until that point, I had never once encountered either of my siblings in situ. To see him - clearly stoned and maybe drunk, at least it seemed to me - meant something monumental. I had crossed some kind of threshold - my social sphere was adjacent to his, we overlapped, and he’s 9 years older than me. I couldn’t face it. I walked away mid song, unwilling to reckon with the garment of adulthood I had just grazed the hem of. But I was talking about this bar, the old bar that closes mysteriously at 9pm, where men for 6 decades have mailed pictures of themselves wearing t-shirts from the bar in exotic locations and where there is a whole museum collection’s worth of nudie calendars hanging in the back room. Once my Dad and I went to this bar for lunch - they’re famous or perhaps notorious for these hot dog sandwiches on white bread with a pickle and white cheese, an ancient-feeling food. We had spent all morning taking shit to the dump in this beast of a truck he bought on craigslist in the long process of remodeling his mother’s home after she passed. We also purchased and hauled some absurd amount of drywall, like 2 tons of it and, with sweat gluing our shirts and ambient sawdust to our skin, we sat in the bar and drank those enormous beers, incredibly refreshing in that circumstance - I felt as I have very rarely felt otherwise a kinship with the laborers of the world, the long and unending line of human history that involves putting shit together and blowing it apart. Turning sweat and labor and grunting into structures, running pipes, tilling the field, rubbing the two sticks together to make fire, killing a frightened animal for the strength held within it’s still warm body.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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