You’ve seen water towers, right? Those huge, tall jugs of water along the roadside. They’re usually a mess—washed out paint and rust, covered by graffiti, erected on the edge of some field, surrounded by switchgrass and big bluestem, the faded name of a faded town painted on the side. You know, the kind Arnie kept climbing in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Gilbert trying to coax him down—“Match and the gas tank –– boom, boom!”
Well, I cannot imagine where my mother came up with her bizarre idea with regard to the water towers, but here’s a brief word on her inventiveness when it came to terrorizing me. And it worked. It terrorized me.
We’d be in the car, my father driving silently, my mother in the passenger seat, me in the back. And as usual, my mother and I would be fighting about something. Sniping back forth, front seat to back, back seat to front. And always about something so stupid and so meaningless that I believe that’s the part of these battles that go to me the most. They were so idiotic. And this went on every single time we were in the car.
Her water tower epiphany came during some nasty exchange mostly about screwing up my chores, screwing up in school, or screwing around with some girl who did not quite manage to measure up to Mother’s “classy” standards.
“That Linda. She’s a cocky little bitch. A goddam little tease. And the mouth on her. Son of bitch, I can’t imagine!”
“Exactly, Ma! You can’t imagine because you’ve never actually heard her.”
“I don’t have to hear her. I know. Believe me I know a putanna when I see one. With her cigarettes and her short dresses and her perky little tight ass. The litte who-er.”
“Ma! You don’tknow her. You don’t know anything about her.”
“I know enough. Little Miss Priss strutting up and down in the front the Eastwood Theater, shaking her little ass. Disgraziata.”
“You don’t know one single thing about her. OK.”
“I know plenty.”
And right about then, when she could see clearly that I wasn’t going to drop it, she leaned over the front seat and start swinging at me. She couldn’t really reach me, but she gave it a good go. Honest to God, she looked like a fucking lunatic, arms flailing, mouth running none-stop with insults about me.
“You dirty, rotten, son of a bitch, bastard!! I’ll kill you, goddam it, you shit ass bastard!”
Once in a while she’d extend her reach by using her purse, but she didn’t do that too often. All the shit in the purse flying all over the car would piss her off even more. So it was mostly her arms, and she couldn’t quite reach me, swinging and flapping and screaming. Of course, I added to her anger by laughing. And that drove her nuts.
One day, while she was swinging at me over the front seat, we happened to be passing a water tower. Now don’t ask me where she got this one, but she screamed, right outta the blue and with a tone dripping with repugnant nastiness, “Do you see that water tower, you wise-mouthed little son of a bitch?! Do you?! Do you see it?! Well, do you know what that’s for, huh? Huh? Answer me, goddam it!”
How the hell did I know what it was for? I thought they put water in the fucking things.
“Answer me!” she screamed.
“No,” I said. forcing myself to sound completely bored and uninterested.
“Well, it’s full of bad boys,” she crackled. “That’s what’s in there. That’s where all the bad boys go. And if you don’t start behaving I’m going to put you in one of those.”
That was how she explained it the first time she told me about what the towers were used for. After that, whenever we’d pass a tower she’s spit, “That’s where they put bad boys. Don’t you forget that.”
Well, I knew she was lying, of course, but I also remember picturing the inside of a tower, bad boys packed in like sardines. So in a way she won. I mean, who’s gonna forget that?
John L. Stanizzi – author of ten collections, including Dance Against the Wall, Hallelujah Time!, Chants, Sundowning, and POND. He’s had poems in Prairie Schooner, Cortland Review, American Life in Poetry, New York Quarterly, and others. He’s been translated into Italian – appears widely in Italy. Nonfiction in Stone Coast Review, Ovunque Siamo, Scarlet Leaf, Literature and Belief, Evening Street, and others. Former Wesleyan Etherington Scholar, and New England Poet of the Year, he received an Artist Fellowship 2021 from Connecticut Office of the Arts. He teaches at Manchester Community College, and lives with Carol, his wife in Coventry. https://www.johnlstanizzi.com.