Poor Billy Green! When he was just turning four, his father tried to throw him in the trash. He was a smart kid but that just seemed to create enemies. His mom did everything to protect him. But this was Detroit, armpit of the wasteland! Catholic school didn’t help much, except the time he got his first kiss from an atheist nun. Home life was dismal. Was his father capable of anything but drinking beer and farting? And what was with that neighbor who made puppets and tried to molest Billy? Golly! Detroit was sucking the life out of him. At such a young age. Then adolescence swirled around him. Like water in a toilet bowl. High school was a B movie. Only without a plot. So finally he did something about it. Billy ran away … to college. Cornell University. That was a good move for sure! He studied hard, lost his virginity, met the love of his life. Things were definitely looking up! What could possibly go wrong?
Targeted Age Group:: 16 – 65
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I grew up under duress in Detroit, Michigan. My parents were trailer park poor, struggling all their lives. They were bigoted, superstitious, religious, but devoted to me. I was always a stranger in a strange land, the area I lived in being largely working class, industrial, gritty. Though I got a great education, both in Catholic school and the public jr.-sr. high school I attended, I was always at odds with my teachers and fellow students.
All of this was ripe for picking for a novel, or as in this case, a set of novels.
I am not Billy Green, the lead character. I wasn’t as cool as he is. My relationship with my dad was excellent, my mom not so good, the opposite of what is happening in the book. None of the characters are directly imported from real life. But the way they act and interact is very real.
It was fun writing something this autobiographical. If not factually accurate, it certainly reflects the temper of the times and my state of mind in the midst of all of the dysfunction.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I invented them, based on people I encountered through my youth and up into my 20s. None of my characters are identical with my family, friends, and acquaintances. But they are true to type.
Chapter One: THE EARLY YEARS
1986 – 1995
It was an especially cold Thanksgiving on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Today was the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and the crowd alternated between shivering and cheering. People shuffled and stomped, attempting to keep their feet from freezing. Gusts of steamy cold blew from their dripping noses and through clenched teeth.
Suddenly Billy started screaming. “My balloon!! My Balloon!!”
“Harold, do something. His balloon!”
“Goddammit, Irene. Do I look like I have wings? It’s too late.”
Up up it went. The string had slipped from Billy’s grasp and the balloon was off to wherever balloons go. The stratosphere? Balloon heaven?
“You stupid little fuck. I told you to let me tie it to your wrist. But you’re so goddamn smart. See what happens when you don’t listen.”
Billy’s face instantly melted into a chastened mask of humiliation and defeat, as he started to cry like his puppy had been crushed under a bus.
“Nice work, Harold. Give the kid a complex. Let’s find a vendor and get him another one.”
“Over my dead body! He’ll learn something from this. Next time something is so goddamn important to him as that there balloon …” Harold jerked his thumb skyward at the latex dot which was all but invisible by now. “… maybe he’ll take better care of it.”
“Jesus Christ, he’s only three. How could I have married such a heartless man? Come here, sweetheart.” She reached down and picked up the heartbroken and tremulously sobbing young boy, face streaked and blotchy, mittens wet with the fresh tears of tragedy.
Another parade float approached and would soon be right in front of them.
She pointed. “Look, Billy. Look at the dinosaur.”
Sure enough, big as a moving van, bloated with helium, tethered to the 8-wheel steel flatbed of a float frame covered with artificial turf, and looking about as realistic as cardboard and crayons, was a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Its mouth was agape in what was supposed to be a scary, imminent man-devouring chomp. Several repairs were visible on the rubber underside, patches which were poorly matched in color to the skin of the faux beast. To underscore the implausibility of the threat, eight baton twirlers circled around the float, dancing, kicking their bare legs high, tossing and twirling gleaming chrome batons in the clear November air.
“Grrr!! Grrr!! Careful he doesn’t eat you up.” She tickled his cheek with her wool-gloved finger and tried to elicit a smile.
Billy had already stopped crying and just looked confused. He seemed more interested in the baton twirlers than the gas bag monster.
Next came a landlocked riverboat float, bearing the Flint Banjo Club players. This was their historic parade debut and they enthusiastically picked and twanged their way through various Dixieland and bluegrass favorites to a crowd which almost seemed to notice. Two mounted policemen followed, their horses snorting and blowing foggy jets from their wet nostrils.
“Harold, I need to powder my nose. Can you take him?” Giving her husband no real choice in the matter, she abruptly reached over and pushed the boy up against his father’s chest.
“Mommy, I have to—”
“Just sit tight, Billy. Mommy will be right back.”
“But, Mom … “
His father took Billy, obviously under protest, and slung him up on his shoulders. The boy completely caught off guard by the sudden and heavy-handed move, grabbed on desperately to keep from falling, wrapping his arms tightly around his father’s neck.
“Easy! Easy! You don’t have to choke me to death.”
Billy knew better than to try to talk to him and just settled in an uncomfortable slump against his father’s head. Before she had left, he was trying to tell his mom that he had to pee. But she was off to find a ladies room and it would have to wait until she got back.
He had to go. Really bad.
To make matters worse, his father was bouncing him. Whether this was to entertain Billy or just to try to stay warm was a moot point. The pressure of the full kidneys built quickly and all Billy could do was concentrate on holding it in. He couldn’t even look at the parade floats. He closed his eyes and bit on his lower lip. The critical pressure in his groin quickly intensified. He clamped his legs together as hard as he could against the urgent and painful need for release.
“What the fuck are you doing up there? This ain’t no wrestling match. Back off with the leg lock.”
His dad reached up under Billy’s arms and shook him to drive home his point. That was all it took for the dam to burst. Billy let out a tiny whimpering cry. Then silence. He tried to stop it but his urethral valve was open and it wasn’t about to be turned off until the job was done.
At first Billy’s father only noticed a slight increase in the temperature around and below the collar of his coat. Then he felt the wetness and sensed the faint odor of the boy’s young discharge.
“Is that what I think it is? You little shit!”
Billy was swallowed whole by shame and fear. He fought desperately to keep from crying and covered his face with both hands as his father roughly lifted him off and held him out in front of him to confirm his worst suspicions. Billy was still going. Pee dripped from the bottom of his wet trousers, past his shoes, onto the pavement.
Billy’s father was fast to act. Still holding Billy at arms length, he turned around and headed away from the street, towards the public restrooms, just as Billy’s mom was making her way back to join them.
At first she was puzzled at the way Harold was carrying the boy, then terrified by the look on her husband’s face. Obviously something had gone very wrong.
“I asked for a son and you gave me this piece of trash.”
She tried to grab for Billy, both to rescue him from his father’s rage and offer him whatever comfort might be needed. But Harold was too quick. He muscled past her and walked over to a large wire trash basket, already nearly full of newspapers, crumpled lunch bags and food wrappings.
He dropped Billy in head first and stormed away.
She was there within seconds.
“Are you all right? My poor little boy! My poor little boy!” She fought back her tears and tried to hide her anger, though the back of her eyes were angry hot embers and an ache for her abused little boy filled her chest with sulfurous pangs. As she reached down and uprighted Billy, she saw his wet pants and realized what had happened. She immediately drew him into the kind of hug that only a mother can provide a frightened child, covering his cheeks and head with kisses.
“It’s alright. It’s alright, my sweet handsome young man.”
The cushioning of the paper refuse already stuffed in the wastebasket had broken Billy’s plunge. He wasn’t hurt. No bruises. No scratches. Surprisingly, he wasn’t crying. He just blinked and stared off in the direction his father had taken.
Then he turned and whispered. “Can we watch the parade?”
“We probably should get you some new pants. Looks like you ran through the lawn sprinklers while I was gone.”
To take advantage of the masses of people attending the event, several stores were open for business, though it was a national holiday. His mom carried Billy into two clothing shops and they found some jeans he really liked. The new pants were a little big on him but at least they were warm and dry.
By the time they returned to the parade route, things were reaching a climactic conclusion. This, of course, was the arrival of none other than Santa Claus himself, on a motorized sled drawn by unmoving reindeer figures, deer-in-the-headlights gazes epoxied into their eyes, with the biggest reindeer celebrity of them all, red-nosed Rudolph himself, in the lead.
Billy’s eyes widened as the Santa float approached. Within minutes, there he was right in front of them, the man with the giant belly, rosy cheeks, red and white fur-trimmed suit, and a huge white beard which flowed down on his chest like angel hair. Santa laughed his deep, sonorous ‘ho ho ho’ and waved like a prom queen to the excited children and conspiratorial adults who were bonded together in a special covenant to perpetuate and promote the Santa myth, just as their parents had done before them.
When Santa had passed and only the top of his waving arm could be seen over the high back of his red and gold sled, Billy finally lowered his own tiny hand and let it hang at his side.
Lost in thought, Billy watched his own fidgeting hands, then looked up at his mom.
“Mommy. Can Santa bring me a new dad?”
About the Author:
John Rachel has a B. A. in Philosophy, has traveled extensively, is a songwriter and music producer, and a bipolar humanist. He has spent his life trying to resolve the intrinsic clash between the metaphysical purity of Buddhism and the overwhelming appeal of narcissism. Prompted by the trauma of graduating high school and having to leave his beloved city of Detroit to attend college, the development his social skills and world view was arrested at age 18. This affliction figures prominently in all of his creative work.
In his own words: “I write trivial garbage to clutter the world with nonsense, but do it with penitent irony and great reverence for literary tradition.”
He is author of eight novels, four of which are coming out in 2014 and 2015. He has also had over 30 short stories, 7 poems, and numerous political articles published in both print and online magazines. Currently in development is a new novel set in Japan, another in Africa, and a creative non-fiction work, allegedly an account of his extensive travels, but more likely the product of the voices in his head which have plagued him since puberty.
Author Rachel has been traveling through and living in over twenty-six countries since leaving America August of 2006. He is now somewhat rooted in a small traditional farming village in Japan near Osaka, where he proudly tends his small but promising vegetable garden.
You can follow his adventures and developing world view at: http://jdrachel.com.
“Scribo ergo sum.”
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