I cannot help but feel like the great majority of human beings really are stupid monkeys dressed in clothes. I watch them interact with another, I see their mannerisms and I am often frustrated that I have to live in a society made up of such fools. But I am getting ahead of myself here. This is not how I wanted to start out. Instead I wanted to talk about my father. My father is a man who is filled with impossible expectations not only for himself but also for everyone else. I have had to grow up always facing the trap door of a father’s unmet expectations and as a 40-year-old man I am still expected to be a particular kind of son. A son who fills his fathers emotional holes, a son who smiles through his continual and subtle emotional abuse, a son who does not question the bullshit, a son who takes the money and does what he is told, a son who sacrifices himself for his father’s love and a an unseen son who is a narcissistic extension of his father. Maybe this is why I decided to take the job as Mr. Pickle.
When I went into Mr. Pickle’s sandwich shop I noticed a help wanted sign just above the cash register. Mr. Pickle’s sandwich shop was looking for someone to dress up in the Mr. Pickle costume and stand outside on the busy street corner and wave at passers by and try to direct them into the sandwich shop. The pay was $10 dollars an hour and on the sign it said: “All you have to do is dance around in a pickle costume for three hours a day! We will even give you a free sandwich!” Maybe it was because I only had a little over a hundred dollars in my bank account or maybe it was because I was fed up with my father’s expectations that I looked at the old lady behind the register and asked pointing to the sign, “how can I interview for this position you have available.”
Before I knew it I was standing on a busy street corner dressed in a Mr. Pickle costume. The Pickle costume covered my entire body so I was only wearing my underwear and shoes and socks. There were two little holes through which I could see and a small hole for breathing. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. Armies of cars passed through the intersection as I heard the old lady, my now boss, come outside of the sandwich shop and yell, “dance pickle, dance!!!!”
On my second day on the job it was almost a hundred degrees out at twelve o’clock in the afternoon. Dressed again in only my underwear and shoes and socks, I had brought with me my iPod, which helped get me into the mood for dancing. I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard and TV On The Radio as I became that dancing idiot in a costume that every person passes by at some point in their life, on some street corner….somewhere. As the armies of cars passed by I tried to catch their attention by waving my arms, moving my tight hips and bobbing my head back and forth. The faces in the cars all looked long and depressed. It was mid afternoon and the majority of people looked as if they were already buried deep in the superficial worries of the world. I knew that if I looked like I was having fun possibly I could grab their attention and get them to join the party by pulling into the Mr. Pickle Sandwich Shop’s parking lot. But very few did so. Instead I felt like more of annoyance. People honked at me with bitter looks of disdain. Some people flipped me off but the majority just pretended as if I did not exist. By three o’clock I was covered in sweat and green lint that came from the pickle costume. As I sat down eating my free vegetarian sandwich I thought of my father and suddenly a smile appeared on my face.
The day that I told my father I wanted to be a writer it was as if someone had died. I was a fresh college graduate with a drinking problem and a future filled with potential. He had hoped that I would be a doctor or a stockbroker- someone who would reflect well upon him when he talked about me to his friends. With great authority my father worked hard to direct me down the straight, safe and legitimate path. But I kept falling off the path and it was always emotionally pain filled to get back on it. When I finally drew the line in the sand and said that the life he had envisioned for me was not a life I wanted to live I was met by toxic projections of unspoken disappointment. To this day I am still working hard to detoxify myself from the continuing exposure to this toxin. Years of despair, self-blame and feeling disempowered in the face of an adversary who was unable to love me for who I was, unable to let me do what I needed to do for myself without punishing me, had weakened my ambition and my body. Rebellion had taken up so much of my life and unmet expectations had left me feeling like a failure. As I ate my Mr. Pickle’s vegetarian sandwich I could not help but feel the absurdity of it all. I had grown up in an affluent country club and as a result of a long a tiring battle fought between father and son, I was now a sad, angry, despondent 40 old man dancing on a street corner dressed in a Mr. Pickle costume.
The following afternoon I could not stop yelling, “fuck you!” at all the cars as they passed by. I was a crazed pickle dancing to the music of the Dead Kennedys, jumping up and down and screaming at all the cars as they passed by. I felt a rage that I had not felt since my father hit me or since he told me that he loved my mother more than I. In my sock was the 40 some dollars that I had made the day before and when I felt it scraping against my leg I remembered my father bragging to me about things such as the modern mansion in which he was living, his world travels and decadent dinners. The intersection was filled with cars moving every which way. Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere, rushing their life away without any idea that they were doing so. “Stupid fucking monkey’s” I kept yelling as the cars obediently marched in line. The people in the cars and the pedestrians walking down the street must of thought that Mr. Pickle was losing his mind. My screaming became louder as I thought about the stupidity of all the obedient people in the world. I also thought about my father and the lifetime of injustices that I felt were perpetrated upon me by him. In the midst of all my rage I noticed that I was having some slight difficulty breathing through the small hole that was now filled up with green lint. Saliva ran down my mouth as I continued to shout, “stupid fucking monkeys, stupid fucking monkeys!!!!!!!” while listening to the punk rock sounds the provided a musical background to what had become an uncontrollable inner rage.
“Mr. Pickle? Mr. Pickle?” I felt someone moving my head and when I opened my eyes I was looking up at two unfamiliar faces and a big blue sky. It was a young boy and his father I assumed. “You okay?” the father asked me. He took his hand in mine and helped me up. The young boy looked at me with wide eyes and surprise. The father said, “we saw you dancing around and then you suddenly fell onto the ground. Are you ok?” I shook myself off in the same way that a deer does after a fright and said, “yes I am fine thank you.” “You sure?” the father asked. “Yes I am sure thank you for your help,” I replied. The father then patted me on the shoulder and said to his son who looked on in surprise, “Mr. Pickle is ok. Say bye to Mr. Pickle.” The son waved at me and said “Bye Mr. Pickle.” I waved at the young boy and watched the father and son walk away hand in hand. I felt a bittersweet smile form on my face as I thought about the irony of it all. I then turned around and saw the old lady standing by the open door of the sandwich shop. She was looking at me with an intimidating look of disdain. Still dressed in the Pickle costume I stared at her. I could feel the stinging pain of a few open wounds on my leg. As I dropped my shoulders in defeat and closed my eyes I heard the old lady yell, “you are fired! Take of my Mr. Pickle costume and get the hell out of here.”
16 thoughts on “Mr. Pickle”
This blog, your writing- simply amazing shit.
A great piece, and I feel like I am berating you by saying so. I really hope to meet you someday, and share a couple of vodkas with a few pickles. Take care.
Thank you Stas. I would love to drink with you. You bring the pickles and I will bring the vodka.
I’m sorry, but may you enlighten me with the purpose of this post?
Good question Alex. I do not think there is any purpose what so ever other than the telling of a story. If I had a specific purpose (that I was aware of) I do not think I would ever write a single thing.
“Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”
Good stuff…I ‘relished’ every word 😛
Thank you Tina:)
I’ve been disappointing my father since I was old enough to dress myself and string coherent sentences together. If I got a job where I had to dance dressed like a giant pickle, my father would probably throw himself off a bridge. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the job is still available.
I know how it feels brother…..
Humans can’t really be monkeys since monkeys are small animals with tails. Monkeys are incredibly smart.
u have a good point here….
Our fathers appear to be roughly cut from the same cloth. I have always felt especially clueless in the face of his toxicity. It wasn’t until he was in his hospice that I got a break of illumination.
By this time I had already been working on the problem for about thirty years. Had not talked with him for about twenty years. How I came to drive cross country for his last days-weeks-month [s] is a l ong story.
The puzzle pieces I had put together made two images. A. My father had been lonely and isolated all his life B. Between HIS father and mother [ie my grandparents] there was exactly zero Love. We never talked about how my grandfather treated his wife like a stick of furniture. The first time I ever saw her angry, and the rest of how she jumped from their fourteen story apartment is another story. Only to add that my grandfather went back up and slept in that apartment that same night.
I changed my name when I dropped out of the final year of a Ph. D. program in psychotherapy .[my second]. Still had not realized that I have been lonely all of my life. So was my grandpa. That means I have been lonely for 175 years.
In his hospice chapter my father had two personalities. One was his usual ass hole self. He would still get angry and intimidating the way he always did and shout, “Why don‘t you get off of your fucking ass”, when he saw me sitting around not doing anything in particular. For the first time I could let go of the fear and still be with him. I could look him in the eye and still feel a calmness in my body.
The illuminating episode happened when he was in a more subdued mood. We stepped out on a sunny porch, as we would sometimes do, and I tried my hunch on him:
“My theory is that between your father and your mother, there was exactly zero Love”
To which he replied,
“You hit the nail right on the head“.
Father had been plowing his way through lonely existence for eighty five years. Never did let up. Finally I had to be back on the other coast, and told father I would be leaving early the next morning.
We had gotten as far as we were going to get. We were done, as far as I was concerned. The next morning, way before daybreak, the nurse aide insisted I try one more time. She was a religious woman from Kenya. Father did wake up. I tried to say goodby. He was moving his mouth open and closed as though trying to say something. Nothing came out.
Some time later, after dad was dead, my sister speculated he was probably in pain. Was it an Ivan Illich moment? I may never know.
Thank you for leaving this touching memoir of your relationship with your father Robert. I can really relate to this. Sounds as if we have a lot in common as far as the emotional, physical and spiritual damage that mean and punishing fathers can inflict on there sons. That hard part has been learning to live with feeling wronged at a very deep level and not being able to do anything with this pain other than carry it around. I still interact occasionally with my father and it seems as if at least once a month he behaves in a way that is hurtful. That re-opens wounds and contaminates my soul. But I am working hard at distancing myself and expressing my feelings but also at letting go so that I can experience some semblance of happiness and joy. I am sure he will have his Ivan Illich moment- but I want to make sure that I do not.
Agreed. In at least this very deep way we are blood brothers. Looking back will be paralyzing, as Carl Jung says, yet the inducement to understand will always be so compelling. Over and over one succumbs to the risk of turning back into a pillar of salt. Isn’t that what psychotherapy is all about in most instances? Telling the same story over and over again, in the company of someone who cares. Feeling heard in recapitulating the story enough until one gets it enough to let go? At least for a time. Not being left alone in the abyss?
Asking and asking: What compelled our family tree to its hideous contortions? Aren’t parents supposed to conceive their offspring out of Love? Rather than as some insect to compete with and humiliate.
The old popular myth. Hard to escape the conclusion that the collective just makes these lies up for its own ulterior motives, to preserve and expand the tribe.
As for joy, in my experience it always comes unexpectedly. The best parts of me come as a surprise. Often I see a larger web they have woven that I have left behind without knowing it. Always my spider web of meaning has nothing to do with Dear Old Dad. He is dead and gone; and as far as I know he never “got it”.
Travel Well my Brother,
NotmyFirstName and Notmylast