Coffee Table Iron Man

by Serge Bielanko

That Morning.

Henry is standing at the coffee table with his tongue poking through lips as he draws Iron Man. He's got the big Ziploc of crayons and markers out and he's got the Iron Man action figure his grandma bought him down the shore stood up there on the ratty table. Iron Man standing right there in pretty much the exact same spot where I usually plop my one cold beer every evening after I finally get the kids to bed if I have them with me that night. I watch my son from out in the kitchen. I try and focus on the dude, letting his small body seep into my face like art, like a painting on a museum wall or something.

I don't know what happens to me whenever I manage to take a break out of my day and stare at my own kids' bodies. It's a real mind fuck. Their skin, their miniature arms poking out of their Walmart t-shirts, the flashes of toe I catch out the breath holes in their Crocs or their sport sandals, it's all too much sometimes in a way.

There he is right now. Henry. He's 4 and change and he's got his own identity now, his penchant for sweet moments of radical love peppered with his tendency to grump out when he's even the slightest bit tired or crashing down hard off a sugar high.

Him standing there with his tongue popping out his mouth as he tries to draw the Iron Man poised on the edge of his piece of white typing paper, it slams a million things into me at once.

I see his mom. I see us. I see a high school kid and I hope he's doing alright. I see him standing there beside my shitty hospital bed when I'm dying someday. I feel his hand in mine when we walk across dangerous grocery store parking lots and I feel his hand in mine while I'm slipping away from him forever, or at least until we meet again if that's what goes down, I dunno.

"Dad!," he starts talking at me.

"What?" I say.

"You gotta see this Iron Man I'm drawing you! But not yet! You can't look yet! I will show you when I'm done DWAWING him."

He says certain words with emphasis, this time it's that word: drawing. But he says it with his own little guy mouth and the jumbling of sounds and pronunciations and all that comes along with that and so he says it better than I've heard the word said in a while.

DWAWING. He says that. But with real emphasis, you know? I fucking stare at him hard and I want to grab him in my arms and cry. How is any of this happening to me? What is happening to me?

Am I happy, dude, or am I really sad? Is any of this normal? Am I fucking going crazy? Am I dreaming?


That Afternoon.

The guitar in my hands is this whole other thing. It's been a while since I held one as often as I'm holding one these days and there is power shooting back up into my arms from that. My brother, Dave, lights a smoke and finds me a couple of chords to plug into my electric tuner as Christine fiddles around with her keyboard, getting the thing powered up and switching around through some different sounds til she lands where she wants to land.

We smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. The four-o-clock summer sun is here in beams, deliberate/concise, three basketball court poles ripped out of the blacktop and slammed through the wall. Mark lowers his bass around his body and stands there looking out the front door at the road. Cars will rip by but it's a tiny village where we are, the middle of nowhere really. That road out there is a means to an end, but unless you're like maybe one of a hundred people or so, the end ain't here in this town. You fly right through it. From one end to the other takes maybe 25 seconds if you're speeding like everybody else. A little more if you're driving like Jesus would.

Me returning to music in some way has never been some kind of inevitable thing. I could have easily let it continue to slide away from me, probably now more than ever. There has to be reasons I walked away from it all and never looked back for years now, never touching a guitar, never tempting myself to just pluck out one of the songs I wrote over almost 14 years of my life doing nothing but the band. It says something about me that I went that route, I guess, but it can't be anything good, I don't imagine, so what's the difference.

I don't dwell on it. I don't sit around thinking too hard about what I missed out on when I wasn't playing music, when I just fucked it all off in exchange for other things to do with my time. The past hates me and I know it. I never get to look back on it all and smile in her eyes and sigh and say gentle shit like "Thanks for everything, you beautiful thing you." I turn around to take a whiff of some yesterday or another and I get fistful of gravel flung in my eyes. It ain't worth it for me. Fuck the past.

And yet, here I am right?

Here I am standing tucked in between my brother tuning up his acoustic guitar and this drum kit he keeps in the middle of his dining room where most people would have their stupid big dinner table where they only eat at Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever. I'm not here with any new material, man. I'm not dragging a bunch of new songs into the mix, exploring my inner alleys with a new pen and some new inspired flashlight. Hells no. I'm here holding this guitar, the same one I used to strap on years ago/night after night/gig after gig/city after city/ just to play the songs me and Dave wrote together when the music was all we had. Back when the music was what defined me the same way it still defines him.

So what's that all about, you know? It's a thud of a question but it keeps coming back at me so I figure it's legit.

I smoke the ass end of my cigarette and I wonder if this is all some kind of throwback move on my part. Am I fronting? Am I trying to relive the past against every fiber in my consciousness? Is this mid life crisis in real time?

We kick into a song, just the four of us, a burst of energy in a sleepy town on a humid summer afternoon.

I fumble around for the chords, but I find them. They're still there. They never go anywhere. I do.

Am I doing this for someone else?

For my bro?

For people who loved our music?

My sound is tinny and fucked up because I'm hooked up directly through the old PA head Dave has sitting on the organ against the wall. Who cares. I like it. I like the clean sheen I'm moving through right now. I whack the tremolo a bunch of times just because the sustain of the chord  I'm playing in the moment sounds way cool, kind of 50's-ish, wrapped up in an unusual sound for me any guitar I ever played onstage before. I sound sharp/dirtless/ping-y. It's a rock-n-roll guitar sound before they discovered the distortion thing.

No one does that anymore. No one wants to play clean when they don't have to. But right now I kind of have to and look at that: I sound amazing.

I'm amazing.

I'm not doing this for anyone else. No one gives a shit about me/I know that.

We end the first song of the afternoon. It's one I remember writing when I lived with Claire on Passyunk in South Philly. I'd spend whole days sitting on our couch back then, writing my face off trying to come up with just one or two things that my brother would listen to me play for the very first time in his tiny trinity over at 10th and Catherine. And when I'd gotten it right, when I'd landed right where I'd been hoping like hell to land, he'd just sit there when I was done, not saying anything, just sitting there smoking his cigarette in this one particular way that he did/does when inside of himself he is overjoyed by what has just come down into his world. But he wouldn't want to overreact or react at all really, you know? Because maybe he's afraid that if he reacts right away someone will snatch the fucking thing away from him and hurt him. Caution comes with time. But some people end up relying on it to get them through. If he heard the song and loved it and then somehow it went away from him right away: that'll rip his bloody veins out of his heart like worms and maybe kill him. I can't be sure. But then again, yes I can.

"My Heart is the Bums On the Street": that's the name of the tune.

We end it and I take a swig of my cooled coffee and I don't meet anyone's eye because I'm too happy about all this and I don't need anybody smiling at me when I'm all happy and shit. I wouldn't know what to do with that. That's not me, that's not us. I come from internalness. I was born out of my mom, splashed out into the open, and then I climbed right back up into life's steaming hot pussy hole and I ain't never come out much since.

Rock-n-roll stages though, I came out of my hiding spot for them. That was the place. It didn't atke me long to know that I could walk out on them and make shit happen for me, up in my insides, that I couldn't make happen anywhere else, no way/no how.

I'm not the only one either. I'm surrounded by people like that here in my brother's house this afternoon, I think.

I'm grateful as hell. I'm thankful as shit. I'm in up to ankles and maybe that's all I'll ever be again but I'm feeling the cool lap me up after years of long heat and I will take it because I fucking earned it in all the years I slammed my own heart up against every mic stand and drunk dude and freak-sex-crusted Super 8 bed sheet across like 12,000 miles, man.

I love everybody. The past is the past.

I'm doing this for me.

I need to say that and to understand that it's alright.

I'm playing rock/roll for me.

I need it.

Give it to me.

Gimme it.


That night.

The electric guitar case has this spot I made for it alongside the acoustic guitar case and Charlie's highchair. They all three fit perfectly together in this spot in the kitchen underneath the window. When they're all there, you can't budge any of them an inch. The fix is airtight. There's no wobble, no room to roam.

When one of the three is missing though, it's a wall with a hole in it. Simple as that.

I pop the electric case back in it's slot, back where it lives when it's not filled with the electricity I'm feeding it more and more these days.

I turn around feeling charged up. I feel alive/I feel young/I feel shaken up/bubbling/I'm a dropped bottle of 7-Up/I'm fizzing/I'm exploding inside/the music feels good to me now/I don't know what else to say.

I'm not used to this feeling lately. It's been years maybe.

I feel fuckable.

But I'm standing there in my kitchen underneath the slow silent whir of the ceiling fan and no one else is standing there giving me eyes. I feel fuckable but I have to put it down tonight. That's what goes so bad, so wrong with musicians sometimes. There's no one around to kiss at the exact moment that they need to kiss someone.

That shit breeds darkness, yo. I don't care what anybody says, it does. Trust me.

I knife some peanut butter onto a stalk of celery and get ready to workout. I will workout now for two hours just so I can sweat my eyes out and feel connected to something else, some elusive kick or high instead of settling down to chill out but end up thinking back one of my hundred sad lanes of thought.

That's a weird sentence right there and I know it. Don't think you're the only one saying that that sentence I just wrote doesn't work right. I know that. It's supposed to be that way. I don't work right. Standing there in my kitchen between the music high and the exercise high I don't work right probably. So that's the point of the funky sentence, okay?

I work right enough though. I crunch my celery and I'm feeling good about life. My ears are amp-stung, ringing a little. I remember then subtle deaf sheen of nights of volume and I welcome it back into my world. The peanut butter hits my bloodstream and I feel comfortable in my own skin for a change.

It's been a strange year. A couple strange years.

I walk in the living room to grab my weights out from under the TV table when I see him standing there in the silence of the room. Iron Man, right where Henry left him this afternoon when I drug him away from his art to head back to his mom's house.her night/let's go, brutha I told him/put your shoes back on, I told him.


Iron Man is standing there alone on top the picture of Iron Man and the picture of Iron Man that Henry drew is heavier and more beautiful than anything and it knocks me back to Earth because Henry isn't here right now.

He's just not here. He's on the schedule. I'm on the schedule. The schedule is the fucking schedule. Henry is at his mom's. It's on the schedule.

I play my guitar according to the schedule.

I will walk out on stages according to the schedule.

I stare at Iron Man on the picture of Iron Man and I want to lay down on these shit rugs and die. I want to crawl back up into life's hot pussy and just die. I want to wake up from all this normal love and heartbreak and sadness and happiness and discover that I'm fine/it was all a dream/it was all a very fucked up dream and I'm fine and everything is lined up perfect and everyone can kiss my beautiful ass.

But I don't. I stick around. I smile hard at Iron Man standing on the picture of Iron Man. I flick off the ceiling fans so I will sweat harder, bleed more. All the answers I will ever need are living down in the throwaway instants between me closing my eyes as I hit the pillow and me drifting off to some other place.

Off I go.

Off we go, my friends.