My Dad is Your Band Logo
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.