My Dad is Your Band Logo

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Chris Kuri­ata

LONG AF­TER LEAV­ING NI­A­GARA BE­HIND, I be­gan see­ing my fa­ther hang­ing from street poles, swad­dled in lay­ers of pack­ing tape. Some­times he loomed from the sides of news­pa­per boxes, the stub­ble on his face glazed with wheat­paste. His ap­pari­tion, con­structed from high con­trast blobs printed off mi­cro­film, lay dead cen­tre in posters ad­ver­tis­ing a lo­cal band. Adorn­ing the mar­gins of these fliers were cut-outs from comic books and ex­ploita­tion movie ads, but the dom­i­nant im­age was al­ways Dad's no­to­ri­ous pho­to­graph. I re­mem­ber the day that pic­ture was taken. I was five years old. Dad had brought me to the Lin­coln Cin­ema on St. Paul to see Pete's Dragon (prob­a­bly at the urg­ing of Mom). Af­ter weigh­ing me down in the dark with a feed bag of pop­corn and a bar­rel of Coca-cola, he got up, wan­dered out of the au­di­to­rium and never saw me again.

What hap­pened was: A young boy pad­dled up the aisle to use the wash­room and some un­speak­able urge com­pelled Dad to fol­low him. Once in the bath­room, Dad forced the boy into a toi­let stall and at­tempted acts that ap­pealed to him more than the sight of Mickey Rooney sing­ing to a car­toon dragon.

The boy was not a pas­sive vic­tim and Dad's as­sault was not well planned. The ruckus caught the at­ten­tion of the con­ces­sion stand at­ten­dant, who tore the toi­let stall door right off its hinges. At that point, Dad pulled out a knife and held it to the boy's face.

The movie kept run­ning even as po­lice stormed the the­atre — the au­di­ence un­aware the pro­jec­tion­ist had aban­doned their post to join the ush­ers and ticket booth girl at the edge of the bath­room door, beg­ging Dad to drop his knife.

Hav­ing no idea what hap­pened to Dad, I al­lowed my­self to be shooed out the ex­its into the al­ley be­hind the the­atre, lug­ging my sack of half-eaten pop­corn. Alone and un­cer­tain, I walked around to the front and joined the crowd of mor­bid cu­rios­ity seek­ers, look­ing for Dad amongst them. It didn't oc­cur to me he might not re­turn. Ages passed be­fore one of the po­lice took no­tice of me shiv­er­ing and half-asleep on the curb. It was the first time I stayed out past mid­night.

In­side the theater, Dad ac­cepted the un­winnable po­si­tion he had backed him­self into. When he dropped the knife, his legs were so numb from sit­ting on the toi­let the po­lice had to drag him through the lobby. A pho­tog­ra­pher from The Stan­dard had been wait­ing for hours to cap­ture a pic­ture. Whether it was an artis­tic de­ci­sion or one of ne­ces­sity, the pho­tog­ra­pher dropped to their stom­ach and flashed an ex­treme low an­gle shot that made Dad tower from the pa­per's front page like some kind of mon­ster. His mouth hung open, ex­pos­ing bad teeth

and his eyes were va­cant and glassy like dirty mar­bles jammed into the head of a mounted preda­tor. The pho­to­graph caught a sliver of the the­atre mar­quee over his head, plas­tic let­ters spell­ing out DRAGON.

It was a mem­o­rable photo. Iconic. Cap­tur­ing the face of every par­ent's worst night­mare. Not far away or in a big city, but home in Ni­a­gara, walk­ing amongst us. If you look through The Stan­dard mi­cro-film for 1978 you will see the pic­ture reprinted again and again, il­lus­trat­ing the dozens of sto­ries about my fa­ther as well as the wake of ar­ti­cles ad­vis­ing par­ents how to street-proof their chil­dren.

Grow­ing up, I used to roll my eyes when­ever friends com­plained of the ter­ri­ble sins their fa­ther had com­mit­ted against them: pro­hibit­ing the wear­ing of makeup, 9 PM cur­fews, re­fus­ing loan of the car... It wasn't un­til Ch­eryl-ann Ma­son and I hid in the bath­room shar­ing cigarettes and she told me how her fa­ther used to come into her bed­room and feel her be­neath the cov­ers that I fi­nally found some­one who would un­der­stand the be­trayal and shame my fa­ther had per­pe­trated against me. Ch­eryl-ann and I might have be­come life­long friends and I would have come to terms with my volatile feel­ings about Dad but she was caught mak­ing out with a se­nior girl in the kiln room and trans­ferred to an­other school.

By my grad­u­at­ing year, about the time I dyed a bee­hive pat­tern into my buzz cut, I had per­fected the fan­tasy con­ver­sa­tion I would have with Dad once he was re­leased from prison. It was strong stuff. Count­less dress re­hearsals in the bath­room mir­ror had honed my in­fected wounds into elo­quent barbs that would pierce his dirty soul. I worked on this speech long past its use­ful­ness — Dad killed him­self chok­ing down laun­dry de­ter­gent in Kingston years ear­lier.

*** Three decades later, when Dad's posters be­gan ap­pear­ing, Michelle had no idea why the blood in my palms turned to ice every time we stepped off the street car. The posters were in­vis­i­ble to her. Just an­other bit of ur­ban vis­ual white noise. I hoped the band would be a one week phe­nom­e­non but for months I was tar­geted by new fliers. They ad­ver­tised dif­fer­ent venues and sup­port­ing bands (Uni­corn

Chunks or Mrs. Slo­combe's Pussy) but the photo of my fa­ther was peren­nial. Dad's face be­came a fa­mil­iar street sight, like the Obey Gi­ant.

I was up­set when Michelle left for Ot­tawa. It was only two days, for work not va­ca­tion. I kept wait­ing for Michelle to sur­prise me with an in­vite to come along but be­fore I knew it she had packed her suit­case for the fi­nal time. I tried not to let my hurt feel­ings show as I brought her to Union Sta­tion. Not that I wanted so much to ride the train and see the cap­i­tal build­ings but I had ex­pected her to make an ef­fort to in­clude me. Peo­ple's sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers got to go on work trips all the time if you asked. I felt unim­por­tant when Michelle didn't want to ask.

She could read the tem­per­a­ture of my aura, but in­stead of as­sur­ing me ev­ery­thing was al­right, that I'd be in her thoughts the whole trip, she got an­noyed.

“There's noth­ing at­trac­tive about you fall­ing to pieces every time I need to go to work. Did you ever think I might like a mo­ment to my­self?”

She al­ways min­i­mizes things. Go­ing out of town for two days was a lot dif­fer­ent than ‘a mo­ment by her­self'.

“What, you think I'm go­ing to disappear if you're not keep­ing an eye on me? It re­ally hurts me you don't be­lieve how im­por­tant you are, like I'm go­ing to run off with the first of­fer I get from some­one else.”

The in­ter­com gave the board­ing an­nounce­ment and the pas­sen­ger line started to flow up the es­ca­la­tor to the Ot­tawa plat­form.

“You know what they say about para­noid peo­ple?” Michelle asked as she flashed her ticket to the sta­tion agent. “They're afraid peo­ple will do to them what they them­selves would do.”

It wasn't like I wanted to run along the de­part­ing train wav­ing a hand­ker­chief like the girl­friend in an old movie, but I thought Michelle owed me a proper, ro­man­tic good­bye. I hated her for aban­don­ing me and mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions about my fi­delity. I didn't want to get on the sub­way, stomp­ing down the street for five blocks be­fore I ran once again into Dad's loom­ing face. He knocked the wind right out of me and I wres­tled him off the pole. He was the last per­son I wanted to see.

Dad bal­ly­hooed yet an­other per­for­mance by Flow Dragons, whose fas­ci­na­tion with his pic­ture de­fied all rea­son. While his 30 year old crimes may linger in the minds of some Ni­a­gara res­i­dents, he could barely have been a blip on the radar of big city folk. Ac­cord­ing to the poster, Flow Dragons were per­form­ing later that evening. Want­ing an­swer and feel­ing en­ti­tled to the money I would have spent ac­com­pa­ny­ing Michelle to Ot­tawa, I took a taxi to Bloor Street, fi­nally in the mood to get a look at Dad's band.

*** At the end of their per­for­mance, Flow Dragons drifted off stage in five directions, mak­ing way for the crew who started un-tap­ing ca­bles and wind­ing the fat black lines into re­mem­bered coils. Some­one switched the club speak­ers over to a playlist.

A wooden ta­ble ap­peared in front of the stage, dressed with a scat­ter­ing of mer­chan­dise. The stock was low, the pro­pri­etor sea­soned enough to an­tic­i­pate weak de­mand. Be­side ugly, home­made T-shirts was a pile of Flow Dragons self ti­tled CD. The al­bums were pro­fes­sion­ally pro­duced, in plas­tic jewel cases, sealed tight in cel­lo­phane, but they looked an­ti­quated. I couldn't re­mem­ber the last time I had been in a store and held a CD in my hand. They looked like ob­jects from a part of my life as a dis­tant as re­tain­ers and lunch­boxes.

Just like the posters, Dad's face was on the CD cover, pro­tected be­neath a layer of plas­tic and cel­lo­phane. I scratched my fin­ger over him, try­ing to rub his stub­ble but he was too far buried, like a face peer­ing up from the bot­tom of a frozen pond. He was im­mo­bile, dead, but pre­served in the ice, look­ing just as he had 30 years ago when first en­tombed by the freeze.

When I came out of the bath­room stall, a young girl leaned against the sink, her arms folded across her chest, smirk­ing malev­o­lently. She was a fa­mil­iar type

— I could smell the bully about her. She pegged me as some­body's mom and wanted me to ac­count for my pres­ence in this happy place of youth­ful rev­elry. Maybe if I still had my bee­hive dye job or tat­toos ex­posed I could have passed. I wore a tai­lored suit to work now, I didn't be­long here.

“I was watch­ing you,” she said as I washed my hands. She reached into the cold gush­ing wa­ter and grasped my wrist. “I saw you steal our CD.” I rec­og­nized the girl now. She had been run­ning the mer­chan­dise ta­ble, wait­ing to ped­dle the CD for 15 dol­lars, 25 and she threw in a shirt. She jammed her hand into my coat pocket and pulled out the pic­ture of Dad I had im­pul­sively stuffed there a few min­utes ear­lier.

“I'm sorry,” I said, de­serv­ing the ugly look she gave my exit from the toi­let stall. I didn't ex­pect se­vere reper­cus­sions for my pa­thetic shoplift­ing. The po­lice weren't go­ing to be called and I doubted the bounc­ers would do more than es­cort me to the door and tell me never to come back. They weren't go­ing to throw me into the al­ley head first like they would if I was a man or in­sin­u­ate their body close to mine like they would if I was a pretty young girl.

I dried my hand on a twenty dol­lar bill I of­fered to the girl, but she snorted and stuffed the CD back into my pocket. “You owe me a drink,” she said. It sounded like a chal­lenge.

Her name was Shan­non. She played tam­bourine for Flow Dragons, which she ad­mit­ted was a to­ken po­si­tion. Her in­stru­ment was not miked and thus wasn't heard over the real mu­sic. Shak­ing the jan­gled drum was the bone thrown to Shan­non to keep her mo­ti­vated about her real job — run­ning the mer­chan­dise ta­ble. She didn't mind. She got to be on stage, caught up in the mu­sic and look­ing like she was re­spon­si­ble for its con­jur­ing. She asked hadn't I no­ticed her? She said, “Did I look good? Did I look hot?” The drink I bought her turned into a sec­ond, and then a third. With each gulp she moved closer un­til we were nearly shar­ing the same stool.

Shan­non asked if I wanted my CD signed by the band. With her arm around my waist we sham­bled through the club's dark cur­tains and se­questered our­selves with the rest of the band.

The tem­per­a­ture back­stage was swel­ter­ing. The band drank beers from a metal tub of ice ly­ing in the mid­dle of their semi-cir­cle. They sat like Ne­an­derthals around a camp­fire, hold­ing their hands to the cold em­a­nat­ing from the ice trough. The band looked so young. The boys were old enough to legally be in a bar drink­ing but I couldn't help feel there were chap­er­ones watch­ing from just the other side of the cur­tain, ready to jump out and ques­tion my pres­ence.

I looked amongst the band, search­ing the youth­ful faces and their weak beards for a leader, some­one to whom I could en­quire how they be­came aware of my fa­ther and the ex­is­tence of his fa­mous photo. Had they es­caped my same old town to the city? Was my fa­ther a boogey­man who haunted the clos­ets of their child­hoods? But mostly, I wished to ap­peal for some new iconog­ra­phy, some­thing that wouldn't haunt me from the side of every sta­ple poked street pole and hastily as­sem­bled un­der­pass.

The boys scorned my pres­ence. Ly­ing, I told them I liked their sound, but they re­fused to make eye con­tact. Al­ready they imag­ined they had changed the world with their in­stru­ments, and needed to freeze out the syco­phants and ex­ploiters who would only de­base their pu­rity. I wanted to tell them to get over them­selves, laugh in their face and mock their un­earned rock star at­ti­tude, but how could I judge them so harshly? They were just kids.

Shan­non helped her­self to a beer from the ice trough and leaned into me, nuz­zling her cold wet lips into my neck. I was too drunk to be fright­ened by her in­ex­pli­ca­ble at­ten­tion and too bruised from the train sta­tion to not de­sire it. I braced my­self for the mo­ment to be spoiled, for my phone to ring; Michelle nes­tled in her ho­tel room and call­ing me. No phone call came. Not be­cause Michelle wasn't think­ing of me, but be­cause she trusted me.

In­stead of cel­lu­lar vi­bra­tions danc­ing in my coat pocket, I felt Shan­non lean­ing more of her weight into me, giv­ing up on her own legs. Her puck­ered lips ad­vance from my neck to my lips and I lifted my arms out of my coat and coiled them around her body. Her young, warm, invit­ing body.

Many beers and smudged lip­stick later, the band be­grudg­ingly signed my CD, all at Shan­non's in­sis­tence. She forced her num­ber into my phone and we parted only af­ter I as­sured her I would be out at the next show to watch her along­side the band, bang­ing her silent tam­bourine, look­ing good, look­ing hot.

The weight of co­in­ci­dence made it dif­fi­cult for me to ac­cept the truth, that there was no con­nec­tion be­tween the band and Dad's pic­ture. It was pure nar­cis­sism to think oth­er­wise. The pic­ture was just a found ob­ject they'd ap­pro­pri­ated — some­thing they thought looked cool. It had noth­ing to do with my sad child­hood. I felt fool­ish.

*** The next time Michelle and I passed one of Dad's posters I dou­bled over, my face swollen, barely hold­ing back tears. Michelle was ter­ri­fied, think­ing I was hav­ing a heart at­tack or a fa­tal al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to some un­trust­wor­thy cook­ing oil. Once I re­cap­tured my breath, all I could do was apol­o­gise. “It's okay,” Michelle said. “I know you didn't mean to scare me.” That night, I threw away the CD Shan­non had gifted me, the one with Dad's face scrawled over with un­in­tel­li­gi­ble sig­na­tures. My sou­venir was in­tended to sit in a box in the closet, to be brought out and lec­tured late at night, when my anger flowed too vi­ciously to let me sleep. But the high con­trast blobs of ink mak­ing up Dad's face had fer­mented, chang­ing the im­age's po­tency, and re­plac­ing one bad mem­ory with an­other.

Dad's face had a new role — wit­ness to my in­fi­delity. From his perch on every street pole, he re­minded me of the young girl I met in the bath­room, whom I bought drinks for, em­braced the warmth and tasted the lip­stick of. The girl I had even promised to see again.

Michelle squat­ted next to me, hold­ing my hand, wait­ing pa­tiently for me to pick my­self up. How much worse was it go­ing to be the next time Michelle and I strolled past one of those tat­tered, wretched posters? I wor­ried that like a bad re­ac­tion to a bee sting, my guilt would grow in­creas­ingly worse. Even­tu­ally, by my re­ac­tion, Michelle would know what I'd done.

*** Al­though I made no ef­fort to fol­low the ca­reer of Flow Dragons over the fol­low­ing years, they ac­cu­mu­lated enough suc­cess I couldn't help but be aware of them. Lo­cal me­dia likes to trum­pet the home boys who make good in Amer­ica.

I was glad the record in­dus­try had crum­bled and mu­sic was now ac­quired strictly on­line. Records had be­come in­tan­gi­ble. The age of al­bum art­work was dead, spar­ing me any huge win­dow dis­play on Yonge Street ad­ver­tis­ing the #1 de­but al­bum of Flow Dragons. Stacks and stacks of CDS fea­tur­ing Dad's face, per­haps even a bill­board, a 40 foot re­minder of my be­trayal loom­ing over the city.

When the band got pro­filed in Rolling Stone, a co-worker of Michelle showed her the mag­a­zine, ex­cited by one of the pho­tos il­lus­trat­ing the ar­ti­cle. It was a can­did snap, from the pe­riod when the band was pay­ing their dues, loung­ing af­ter a club date in Toronto. The co-worker no­ticed the woman emerg­ing from a cur­tain be­hind the band. “Isn't that your girl­friend?” they wanted to know.

I told Michelle of course not. How could the woman in that photo be me? I wasn't go­ing out to loud, smelly clubs to see bands, not even three years ago, what was she think­ing? We both laughed, but in­side I was burst­ing. If Michelle was show­ing pho­tos and talk­ing about me enough that one of her co-work­ers could rec­og­nize me in the back­ground of a bad mag­a­zine photo, why that must mean she made me sound pretty im­por­tant.

il­lus­tra­tion by Beena Mistry

Chris Kuri­ata lives in St. Catharines, ON. His short fic­tion about home-in­vad­ing bears, el­derly poi­son­ers, mas­sage par­lour at­ten­dants, and necro­mancy have ap­peared in many fine pub­li­ca­tions.

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