Freudian Slips: Californication

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

May 03, 2007


Bucky Cloots’ debilitating condition could make a calloused person rethink devaluing notions about the disabled. When I first met Bucky, he could barely stand on his own two feet. A wheelchair loomed in his future and he knew it was coming sure as the nightmares in his sleep. If you stared into Bucky's eyes, you could see primal fear of the unknown.
A fine mist sprayed from the gray sky on the first day I visited his home in Westville, New Jersey. His legs scissored side to side to answer the front door. Bucky ushered me through the covered porch and hobbled back into the house that spanned his life. He clutched every sidewall and railing at his disposal. He wasted no time awkwardly handing me a family photo album from the quaint living room. After pointing to each picture of his youth, Bucky would let out a weighted sigh. After leafing through of the first couple of pages, I got his gist. His presentation of the photographs functioned as an augmented communication device emceeing his life story.
Once normal in every respect, Bucky shed his high school cap and gown for adulthood. I saw pictures of him cavorting with friends, family, and girlfriends. I lifted from the pictures normal development with no signs of handicap. Bucky was once just like you and me before a rare brain disease began irreversibly eroding motor functions. Subtle changes occurred at first that were beyond the threshold of suspicion like missing an occasional step on the staircase, a glass slipping out of his hand, the gradual change to a sloppy signature, etc.
Over the menacing years, this once graceful athlete regressed to clumsy then dependent. In the cruelty of time, Bucky could no longer ride a bicycle, bathe himself, or tie his shoelaces. Outside of rare emotional states that somehow massaged and stimulated his vocal cords, the disease stole his ability to communicate and rendered him non-verbal. Atop an end table, he singled out an action shot of himself running for the high school track team. The long gallops in time trials appeared to be a lifetime ago. He turned away, as if the picture disturbed him. He then grabbed me by the elbow and we walked in tandem over to a busy mantel, where his high school yearbook picture lay beneath a matted frame. Bucky’s uncoordinated attempts to dust the frame off nearly knocked the picture from the mantel.
I took hold of the prized picture. “I got it, Bucky. In fact, I get everything you are trying to tell me.”
The yearbook picture said it best. Daring, dashing, good looks of yesteryear. Now Bucky could no longer run let alone walk without a hitch. He could not venture out into the community that once embraced him. His father was dead. His mother, with whom he lived, was nursing home material. His lone sibling had moved out of state. The scrapbook pictures of his friends were only fond memories that caused him equal parts pain. His friends had forsaken him for greener pastures.
Bucky's brother lived in California but he arranged to take him one month a year like a cheeseburger in paradise. The highlight of vacations became the arrangement of a working girl to make a house call for Bucky. Needless to say, Bucky looked forward to his vacations. When Bucky would return from Californication, I always asked him about it in the form of yes or no questions that he could answer with headshakes. Whenever I teased him about a loosey-goosey visitor, he would give me shit-eating grins. I lavished him with compliments about his masculinity, virility, and how he could still find ways to enjoy life despite his irreversable condition.
Over the years, we developed this commaraderie that when I asked him how his vacation was, he knew that I didn’t mean the barbecues, obligatory family reunions, church on Sunday, or catching an unsung movie. He knew the code: Vacation was a four-leaf clover for him to get his shamrocks off and I pretended to live vicariously through him. So I would encourage him to try and say something, anything at all. By all indications, Bucky wanted to tell me more than a headshake. His arduous speech process started with chin bobbing as if he needed to first align his vocal cords. His mouth opened and his tongue swished about in a cleansing of his palette. A clearing of the throat could only mean that Bucky teetered on the cusp of talking. In a granulated hoarse voice, I heard him utter with both strain and perseverance. “Very good!”
While Bucky broke his silence, he could not contain himself any longer. A raspy series of “Very goods" poured out of his mouth like multiple orgasms. He conveyed all his carnal knowledge with those two complimentary words. I nearly fell down laughing. I got such a rise out of our routine that I would have picked him up at the airport every year just for a chance to hear those words sooner.
New departmental rules finally forced me to transfer Bucky to another social worker’s caseload. Years passed. One day my path crossed with Bucky, who sat slumped in a wheelchair in disrepair. His body looked like soft-set Jell-O that forgot to form a mold. It pained me to see his physical debilitation and I thought of the crisp mind stuck in that ravaged body. Bucky’s sullen eyes shot towards my approach and he nearly fell out of his wheelchair. Saliva dribbled out a corner of a mouth slowly quieted over the years. I could not fathom Bucky’s exuberance nor the meaning of his harsh guttural sounds until he pointed to his tee shirt. As I read his imprint shirt, a smile engulfed Bucky’s face. The shirt read: SOMEONE IN CALIFORNIA LOVES ME!
“Very good!” he throated in halting speech.
-Californication must still be very good indeed.



Blogger mommanator said...

What a sweet story JT, almost made me cry, and that is why you are in social work HUH

7:46 AM  
Blogger e said...

Really good story, Joe. Makes me want to go give Bucky a hug.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous et said...

Joe, tears are welling up in my eyes,...ooops...too late...they are running down my cheeks! I'm trying to write coherently of how your rendition of Bucky's life has affected me. As I got deeper into your story, my heart broke in two for this man. So many people are in these types of situations; it makes me doubly grateful for what I have. Your writing on this one gets an A+

4:23 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

some of us still have to hit the salt mines.

little e,
thought i would post a social work story for you last night since you are thinking of getting in the biz. lol

must have lost some magic reading this since i told you this story before.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous et said...

Joe, one of the benefits of having alzheimer's is that every retelling is as fresh as the first. Did I laugh or cry the first time? Oh, never mind, I won't remember your answer, anyway!

10:17 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

all these years, you told me it was lupus.

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Grinchy Locks said...

You've given Bucky a moment in time when he saw you again. To each of us, there is that one moment in time where we will remember it forever, cherish it, caress it and replay it. You've given that to Bucky. No one could understand that moment in time...only you. Seeing you brought it right back. Seeing you again, made him live again, one more moment. You are such a good writer....and now I see, a social worker.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

An emergency on my caseload called me out to a nursing home today. When my buisness was done, I remembered just learning that Bucky recently moved here. I found Bucky sitting in his wheelchair eating his supper. He waved immediately. The sight nearly brought me to tears and I sought him out.

7:25 PM  

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