Below is Part 1 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
◄◄ Read the prologue / introduction
Brainwash: Well-Water Primer
I, Dot Motley, am besotted with try-on and loose ends. In medieval days, I would have lived in a castle as a lady-in-waiting trained in raiment. Today, I’m the one kept waiting with detours, delays, and no-shows. Even at the library, late fines are obsolete. Like due dates don’t matter.
Forgive me. Brainwashed, I can’t shake middle-class habits. Stalled, my dots are green with envy, chartreuse around the edges. Like ripe gorgonzola cheese or cheap eye-liner.
A child of the 1950s, I longed for the American Dream—cherry cough drops, cheery Santa with the Missus, warm house with gift-wrapped boxes too big to slide under the tree.
What happened? Age and shame taught me the silence. I went hoarse as the Mona Lisa and lost voice.
I’m not into Deep-State Conspiracy Theories, but I see the American Dream mass-produced like holiday knits with triangular evergreens, identical six-sided snowflakes, and readymade reindeer in rows.
Pull a loose thread and see what happens to those picture sweaters. They unravel. Trees forfeit trunks, snowflakes melt points, reindeer lose legs. Like milk cows standing upstate in frozen mud, waiting for the sweet light of spring to come over the Catskills.
In third grade, I was head of our reading circle, my first and last leadership position. No one liked our class primer, Dick and Jane. Prissy Dick wore shorts, a real hoot in our way in upstate New York. Jane’s silly skirt was never flat. Like she was wearing a big stiff A underneath. Or snowpants bunched-up in an M year round, in case cooties colonized her bloomers.
Those primers were our funny papers. Our reading treasures were Marvel comics and Illustrated Classics. They changed hands like paper currency with recess cartons of chocolate milk, Hostess cupcakes, and thick pink chunks of Bazooka bubble gum.
Life was not easy in the valleys of upstate New York. Forget Jane’s white anklets and Dick’s clean saddle shoes in milking barns or along the railroad tracks. We wore hand-me-downs, rolled-up, let out, mended. Older sister’s birthday sweater from last year was sonny’s make-do—safety brown, sludge blue. Big brother’s outgrown flannel shirt, thin at the elbows, snapped over middle sister’s lost buttons, chewed cuffs, kicked-out hem. Who could smirk?
Dick and Jane.
Jane was the girl I could never be with one nice layer over the other, a paper doll with pink arms and legs in the same position. So much for the posture of progress.
Dick was the boy I wanted to kick.
Dick and Jane lived in a high house on top and pushed Jack and Jill down the hill in a narrative called Stay Down, Keep in Place. Dick and Jane didn’t climb for adventure. They drank soda pop, not water, and they didn’t picnic for fear of grass stains. And ants. Goody-goody Dick used a stuntman for clunky bucket, fall, and stumble. Jane would never tumble—let us see London…France...her underpants. Those two never learned hurt.
One of the boys in my reading circle was the son of a junkman. Saturdays, Jimmy rode with his dad and hauled garbage. Jimmy brought out the Jane in my Dot. I worried he might be smelly, germy. He wasn’t.
Trash was his treasure, and Jimmy recycled odd stuff—a sweat band and sleeveless liner from a man’s trench coat. He saved torn box tops and mail-ordered a full set of decoder rings. In that crazy get-up, he crooned like Elvis. But I could tell he wasn’t really reading Dick and Jane. He frowned in concentration, moving his lips to please the teacher.
No lie. He memorized the text, line, page, and picture. Like a T.V. jingle. Or Bible verse.
Dot, he said, this here reading book means No Trespass for me and my dad, even round back by the ashcan. When I show up in them purty short pants, white socks, and dimples, you’ll know we’ve been there.
Thinking of Jimmy dressed up like Dick, but with decoder rings on every finger, started me thinking. Dick and Jane tempt you. Thirsty, you hike the path to the precious peak, super careful not to slip, but the little darlings don’t say Hi. They trip you, kick your bucket, knock you head over heels. Decoder rings don’t save you.
Jill, try blaming Jack and lie to your mom about that chipped tooth, torn skirt, skinned knee. Jack, tell your dad the busted pail is Jill’s fault and, anyhow, you already slopped the sow.
Like order changes outcome.
Alphabetical, teacher said. That’s why Dick the D-word and Jane the J-word are never Jane and Dick.
Oh sure. The sneaky book wanted us to say Mr. and Mrs., not Mrs. and Mr., even though nobody said Dad and Mom for Mom and Dad. What a scam! There was no hilltop well waiting for Jack and Jill. More like a hose spigot. We young readers were snookered by words, lured into trespass in an uphill game of Sisyphus.
Here’s my primer update. Dick and Jane retired to south Florida to a gated community with landscaped coconut palms. Jimmy uses the service entrance. Dick, his head-hill bald as a golf ball, power-walks with a water bottle. Jane, chipper in Botox, wears sunglasses, attends yoga classes, lunches on vanilla yogurt.
About that hill, years ago, I should’ve changed my name to Jill Hill and restored my faculties.
Quit high-five hug, cheesy smile, and selfie stick, I tell my slattern senses.
One by one, I’m calling you to task.
Eyes, subtle envoys, your pupils have gained weight
at senior summer camp. Must I paddle
your canoe, re-corner cot sheets, quiver
lost arrows? Your sight blurs fonts.
I slur words read aloud.
No, don’t bad-mouth
Tongue, but hey, buds, do your job. Three times a day
you gripe. No weekends off. So?
About fav flavors relished in the past…
Not our prob chants your team lollygag. Sniff.
And don’t you dare snivel,
Nose, I should’ve bobbed you without warning,
busted your hump in college.
What’s with this homespun frill? Nostril fringe you snort,
blaming wages, invasive pests, dead bees, doctored pollen….
Yadda yada, what nerve.
I trusted you with French milled soap and scented bath salts.
Yet my nooks and crannies reek.
Finger wrinkles you impute.
Speaking of which,
Skin, olive beauty, you used to be all over me.
Now I’m seldom touched.
Sallow you claim fallow fenders, bumps and bruises.
Must I ambulate my dots by sound?
O, Ears, once happy twins cradled in my hair,
why the droop and candle wax?
Skip snuffed wick and pendant lobe. Why sleep in, shirk duty?
Wake me, please, for pre-dawn din of birdcalls,
cricket’s grate, cicada’s whirl.
Swell reunion, your bickering quintet shames me with issues—
toxic waste, white noise, emissions—events that happened
on your clock.
Remember? Or, were you and your turn-coat five at a different reunion chez Dick and Jane?
My nemesis was the pail, that bucket filled with hard well water, storm rain, thawing frozen food, bait fish, suds, salt tears, brainwash…warsh as they say upstate.
► Next Installment 10/3 | Blue x Five: Flu Shot as Lewis & Clark Expedition
[image: American Dream III Winter Wonderland | Peter Crawford]