Mr. Plasticky (Part One)
by Cynthia Kazandjian
When I think of God of course I think of my conversations with Gus in Fort Lauderdale. It was the late seventies. We both lived in the same poor neighbourhood off of Sunrise Boulevard. Gus was a shady fellow who always looked frowzy and curious and only spoke to me through the lowered driver’s window of his beat up car. His teeth were too long and his cheeks too swollen. But what he lacked in good looks he made up for with kind eyes. Often, I’d be roller-skating when he’d drive by and pull the car over to chat. Every once in a while, he’d let me grab his bumper and pull me up and down the street on my skates.
I struggled with a sense of guilt over my rapidly diminishing respect for God. But Gus came along and released me from my anguish. Through a series of compelling conversations, Gus fortified my courage to resent God. “We’re on our own kid. If God really cared he wouldn’t allow the horrible things he does. He’s an asshole.” The second Gus referred to God as an asshole and wasn’t instantly vaporized, something inside me shifted.
I was around nine and although Gus was a grown-up, we shared many of the same frustrations with Sir Almighty save one, the one involving cunnilingus. Gus explained that he was born into a religion that viewed this sexual act as a sin. He asked me, “What kind of a God would disapprove of something so wonderful?” I didn’t have an answer for Gus, especially considering I didn’t even know what this unpronounceable word meant. Gus would fix that.
Was it the influence of indignation that prompted Gus to describe cunnilingus to a nine year old? I’d say yes, mixed in with something greatly worse. The conversation segued to his sexual preferences. Gus preferred the act of giving rather than receiving. And how cruel of his religion to also frown upon fellatio.
Through this memorable conversation, my repertoire of lascivious terminology exploded into being. However, thinking back, words like cunnilingus and fellatio sounded oddly ornate coming from a simple guy like Gus. Perhaps a regular habit of paging through skin magazines widened Gus’s vocabulary, thus enabling him to transform into Gus- the Neo-Latin cunnilinguist.
Welcome to my Fort Lauderdale years where inappropriate conversations were the norm, not the exception.
I lived with my mother in a tiny cockroach-infested room we rented in the back of a ramshackle house. A two burner electric contraption served as our stove and our defective mini fridge usually turned our milk rotten by day two of purchase. The room was connected to a matchbox-sized space stuffed with a toilet, a sink, and a shower, seemingly as an afterthought.
My mother tried to recreate both the jungle and the ocean floor in our tight living quarters. Hanging low from the ceiling was a fish net strewn with an assortment of dried starfish, sand dollars, seahorses and fake seaweed. Our bed cover was patterned with oversized tigers and an abundance of animal print clothing hung from the numerous clothing racks lining the walls. There was no room for a table or a chair. Our wall-to-wall carpet was grotty and the color of dried blood. Many an evening I fell asleep on it in spite of its sandpaper texture and our cockroach problem.
Although I felt swallowed up by the overbearing décor, somehow cramming the ocean floor and the jungle into this awful little room made the room less awful.
Three smells circulated within our necessitous dwelling, the smell of Raid, my mother’s signature Shalimar perfume, and wafts of Floridian turfgrass.
Here’s some backstory. My parents were officially divorced and my father obtained sole custody. I was living with him in Montreal; my mother had left for Florida. One day during a schoolyard recess period, my mother appeared unexpectedly. Nearby, in a Winnebago, two well-meaning members of her family waited patiently. Nervously, she expressed that I must go live with her in Florida.
I knew my father loved me but I was never sure of my mother’s love. I figured that if my mother wanted me to live with her to the extent that she planned a soft kidnapping, who was I to foil her plan? I would prove my love for her and cooperate. Naively, I climbed into the Winnebago figuring that by surrendering to her crazy plan I would gain her love at last. Maybe she’d be kinder too.
On the way to Florida, we stopped in New Jersey where I would remain with a relative until she was properly settled in Florida. I even attended school there for the duration of my stay. After what felt like a year, my mother returned at last. Once again, we headed to Florida, this time, in a beat up car. When we finally arrived in Florida, another relative would keep me until my mother felt sufficiently organized. My stay with the second relative was too short to bother placing me in a school. My mother’s pattern of showing little concern for regular school attendance hadn’t changed.
I often wondered why she bothered stealing me from a parent who loved me so much more, and so much more responsibly. I felt like a disposable prop in her life. She was perversely preoccupied with God, religious scripture, the Apocalypse, wigs and clothes. Combined, they formed the eclectic nucleus of her life’s interests. I was a nuisance, an unwelcome distraction from her sacred interests.
I didn’t try to compete with God for my mother’s attention. I knew this would only provoke her wrath. And so under the watch of a woman who had no business being a mother, I spent a portion of my childhood in Fort Lauderdale.
To my young soul, God was nowhere to be found. That, or he was a meek motherfucker who couldn’t control my mother. My mother’s ways, coupled with a non-interventionist God, left a permanent crater on my psyche. But I managed to build an exciting and beautiful metropolis within and around it.
Luckily, Fort Lauderdale was an electric blizzard of contrasts. It had enough offerings for me to transcend my dismal circumstances.
What does any of this have to do with Mr Plasticky?
I’ll get to him soon…