My Pop-Pop used to start drinking early on Sundays. Up the half-block to Fayette Grill by eleven in the morning. Sometimes I'd come around the corner by Mary Anne's dress shop and see him limping up the street slow, headed for the smokey darkness, for the pilsner glasses that smelled like beer even after they'd just been washed, the scent mortared into the walls of the vessel from a thousand hard floods. I'd watch him hobble up the street. Towards his destiny. It was NFL season. He had football pools to hand in. He had Cream Ale to swallow.
A few hours later he would appear in our living room. Well, his living room, I guess, but my Mom and me and my brother lived there in the house with him and Mom-Mom: so it was our living room too really. He'd come through the thick front door and sit down in his torn-up ratty recliner and I'd watch him peer over his eyeglasses at his paper gambling slips.
"Hey man," he'd say. "Get Pop-Pop one of his sodas will ya?"
I'd go into the kitchen, to the back fridge/beer fridge and fish one out. A Pop-Pop Soda.
The TV would blare. He was a little deaf from life. Maybe he'd stood by anti-aircraft guns on his battleship out there in the Pacific at some point. Who knows. Maybe his body was filled to brim with beer. Maybe his ears were the last to feel the flood, the soft foam suds rising steadily through all the Friday Nights and Saturday Nights and Fourth of Julys and Deer Camps and weeks down the shore and football afternoons, until one day they just crested his Camel scarred throat and started overflowing into his hearing canals like a clogged toilet onto the tiles.
He would sit there in the blasting aura of air horns and crowds cheering and overly excitable announcers, crack open the can I brought him, and let the same exact Sunday afternoon wash all over his body and soul as it had last Sunday and the ones before that.
The Eagles were our team. The Philadelphia Eagles. The Iggles. They were the team. There were no other teams to consider. No second favorites. There were like twenty six teams and one of them mattered and the rest did not. The Cincinnati Bengals. The Chicago Bears. The Atlanta Falcons. Those teams made no sense to us. Their players made no sense. Why were they even bothering? Only The Eagles mattered at all. Only The Birds.
Halfway through the first quarter it would come.
"Hold onto the ball, Goddammit. Run nigger!"
I would watch him through my eleven year old eyes as he said it. His face didn't change. He sipped beer before and after the words. I felt like he must be wrong. Confused. I felt like the word must've slipped out of his mouth by some slip of the tongue, some accident.
But, then he'd say something like that again a while later. After a time, I had to tell myself there was no accidents in that beat-up old living room. That was tough for a young kid. If my Mom-Mom or my Mom happened to be passing through the room on their way back from Shop'N'Bag or something when he said that stuff: they'd give him the business.
"Sonny, watch your mouth. Please don't say those things!", my Mom-Mom would holler.
He would not look at her. He wouldn't even raise an eyeball from the TV, from the game to acknowledge he heard her. He'd sip at the can in his fist, sit back in the chair.
Mom-Mom would look at me and seem like she was gonna bust out in tears.
"He don't mean that, Serge." she'd say. "He don't mean that word."
I'd eat my Zep. I'd eat my Zep and watch the football with my American grandfather. I'd get him cans from the back fridge. I'd bristle for hours from things he said he might not have even understood.
He's dead a long time now so I am never gonna know, I guess.
Why do people have hate in their hearts? Why is it that certain people think they know a God better than you or me? And when are we gonna learn?
We aren't ever gonna learn, huh?
Sometimes I sit with Violet in my lap and look at the FaceBook. People I don't really know respond to other people and spout off about illegal immigrants being treated at the hospital.
I try and imagine what that is like when it's going down. When an eleven year old Mexican boy is thrust through some swinging stainless steel doors into a long hall of rooms. I try and focus on his little face, the blood streaming down his cheeks where the grill of the Datsun rammed through his skull.
You can't see his skin color, by the way. In my vision: you cannot see his caramel complexion, the color of a slight creek after hard spring rains. You can only make out that there is a face in there somewhere under all that universally colored blood.
I want him stitched up. I want him to live and maybe I get to meet him someday and shoot the shit in the stands at a minor league double-header. And if he were older and riddled with flu, guess what? Same thing. Live, motherfucker. Live/Live/Live. You aren't illegal to me. Or my daughter. Or my wife. We don't see you standing on our front lawn with a long vacuum hose hooked up to our mattress, sucking out all the hard earned legal wages we have managed to squirrel away.
We see you as something worth throwing in for. Life.
Way back when he was alive, my Pop-Pop doused himself in all kinds of misery. Like Dixie Cups full of gas, he'd splash little shames on himself here and there, little insults at his wife/little hate words at the TV. It didn't take me long to see how un-alone/alone he was either. You're never alone in HateTown, but no one wants to be too neighborly with you either. There is shame involved. Fury. Self-loathing and maybe a blind walk into the Valley Of The Literal Old Book.
You wake up in your bed in your state, You wake up in your country-ass town or in your filthy-ass city, you roll out of bed, you head downstairs and slice banana on the Coco Puffs. You suck down juice or coffee, hop in the shower, kiss heads goodbye, head out the front door into the world.
With hate in your heart or not. There is no middle ground.