May 9th, 2012 / 3:01 pm

Sticky Fingers

In 1984, a year masquerading as a didactic yet prophetic novel, the real person of my father was kicked out of his home by the real person of my mother; I make such differentiation because real life, containing such real people, has no front and back cover, only addendums and epilogues under constant revision, not to mention a disorganized index of horror. My father, whose emotional abuse was verging on physical, recently kicked out after a bad night involving a six-pack of import beer and a kitchen knife, just past 40, rented a room four blocks away in a house he proudly referred to as of “bachelors,” showing me the cool Mazda RX-7 parked in the driveway, whose owner greeted this narrator with a swift “hey” in the manner of a dude out to party who wanted nothing to do with his new 41-year-old roommate and his 8-year-old son engaged in their ongoing “Sunday visits,” whose unnatural allocation was incurred by the former’s domestic transgression.

Tom, I think his name was, loved the Rolling Stones, which I surmised with fingers flipping through a milk crate full of their albums. I was fascinated with Sticky Fingers (1971), designed by Warhol, whose vinyl cover featured an actual zipper one could unzip, peaking through to the image of tight briefs whose main subject (while not consistent in location) was implied by their respective notable mounds. For about a month or two — before my father found his own apartment, then his own country (i.e. the United States, hence my arrival here three years later, my single mother at the edge of her patience, love, and bank account) — he would still receive mail at his home, our home, however confusing the idea of “our” became, giving me the task of walking his mail over to him. I remember how odd it felt becoming the mailman of my family. I’d stay over for fifteen minutes or so, somewhat awkwardly as my father addressed whatever issues the mail incited, at times disturbed phone calls to my mother regarding household bills and other “adult things,” this in the mind of a boy who had no idea how gay it was to be so consumed with opening the fly of an anonymous man with a huge cock.

Warhol’s joke, of course, was fellatio, or just a handjob, if one considers the album’s title. One is met below the belt, on their knees, with a sole zipper to undo. Of subordination. Perhaps his Velvet Undergound & Nico (1967) banana was too obvious or not enough. But this was years before art school, “sophisticated” taste, and Reed and Cale’s alienating distortion which seemed to almost resent being listened to. I went through a Velvet Underground phase, but got tired of the tranquilizer dart effect. The suspicious large mound to the right of the zipper seemed related to what I was discovering about my own body, however tiny in size. I remember Tom smiling at me while I fingered the fly, the secret of adulthood’s primitive mechanisms in the face of childhood’s curiosity. Now when I look at the cover I think of foreskin, smegma, the vas deferens, gay ’70s porn, anal sex, the inevitable $hot’s economics and abstract expressionism, and other wonderful things adults are blessed with knowledge of. I miss nonsex. I miss my small fingers.

I delivered his mail until it stopped coming, as if the purveyors with whom my father was in debt just knew, and went after him elsewhere. My mother and I moved to low-income housing closer to the city, inverse white flight, and the Sunday visits with my father happened less and less, until one day the elevator doors which led to and away from Apt. 404 shut on his tear stricken face. It would be years later until I actually heard the album: the funny racism of “Brown Sugar,” boring misogyny of “Bitch,” and oddly haunting “Moonlight Mile,” though the song not mentioned will soon be so. Tom eventually drove me around the neighborhood in his RX-7, which smelled like perfume, another way of saying smelled like success. I remember being happy for him, and blessing rock and roll. In a bachelors’ house in Markham, Ontario, a small suburb just outside of Toronto, sometime in the evening when the purple sky, battered by the sun, concedes to its bruise; when other fathers and husbands are with their families, I — now, hidden in hindsight — imagine my father, a programmer for IBM who just couldn’t program the rest of his life, carefully guiding the needle to “Wild Horses,” perhaps with a commemorative six-pack next to him, or 8″ chef’s knife, slouching into the opening lines almost perfectly composed on behalf of his small son, who only wished the mail contained better news: childhood living is easy to do / the things you wanted I brought them for you.


  1. DJ Berndt

      This is beautiful, Jimmy. Thank you.

  2. deadgod

      you got to fix it
      must be love
      it’s a bitch

      sometimes I’m sexy
      move like a stud
      like I’m kicking the stall all night
      sometimes I’m so shy
      got to be worked on
      don’t have no bark or no bite

      yeah when you call my name
      I salivate like a Pavlov dog
      yeah when you lay me out
      my heart’s beating louder than a big bass drum

      Not that Keef & Mick were not misogynists, but I don’t think they’re calling her – any ‘her’ – a “bitch” in this song.

      I’d never thought of Wild Horses in terms of a father (self-)severed from his son.  I do now.

  3. Dayton C Castleman

      really enjoyed this. somehow related – not sure how. thanks.

  4. Lazy Fascist

      Hot diggity. This is really great.

  5. M. Kitchell

      is there any pleasure in your life whatsoever that is not derived from being overtly analytical and a pain in the ass on the internet

  6. deadgod

      seems like those are two of the three ambitions in your life tonight impossible the other being mischosen adverbs

  7. Anonymous

      Do you have any fiction out there Jimmy Chen? I want to read it.

  8. Bobby Dixon
  9. mimi

      impossible I think deaders is saying ‘covertly’ is the better choice

  10. Evan Hatch

      chill out bro, deadgod is the best personality on this website, if not the internet itself

  11. M. Kitchell
  12. lorian long

      ‘i delivered his mail until it stopped coming’

  13. mimi

      good catch lo lo

  14. Steven Vineis

      This is excellent. 

  15. deadgod

      I would’ve gone another way ‘overly’ thataway

      there’s such a thing overanalysis but this screentown is generally a place for careful reading and jimmy chen’s memmary blogicles luxe glens of legible foliage too

      also a place for thumbs up/down concision and sour pet you lance

  16. deadgod

      calumniation fore and aft !

  17. mimi

      cool how you can leave from overtly go one way over there yonder to overly or go over that there other way to covertly or you can hover over overtly or go over or go under or go undercover covertly or go red rover red rover let ____ ___ come over  


  18. Anonymous

      deadgod, has it occurred to you that you are the George Chapman of online commenters?

  19. deadgod

      Noh p.  I don’t understand the analogy, so it doesn’t even occur to me now.

      Are you angling to be the Keats of online commenters?

  20. Anonymous

      The idea being that Chapman, of all the Elizabethans, was the most doggedly insistent on being hard to read, exclusive, and obscure: “Rich minerals are digged out of the bowels of the earth, not found in the superficies and dust of it; charms made of unlearned characters are not consecrate by the Muses which are divine artists, but by Euippe’s daughters, that challenged them with mere nature, whose breasts I doubt had not been well worthy condemnation if their comparison had not turned them into pies.”

      Insofar as Keats was very impressed by Chapman’s murkily resonant tones but did not quite “get” him, then, yes, I am the Keats of the Internet.

  21. mimi

      insofar as i acknowledge the above ‘definition’, then, yes, i’m a little-keatsiana of the internet

  22. deadgod

      I know that empty and dark spirits will complain of palpable night; but those that beforehand have a radiant and light-bearing intellect, will say they can pass through [deadgod’s] garden without help of a lantern.

      Ha ha.  I don’t think Shakespeare is so easy to read – nor was then – , and I think of Donne as the most Pindaric (/Horatian) of English poets (though he’s not called so, especially in comparison with to-me unHoratian Augustans).  I mean that Chapman’s not so hard–with a little persistence–, and I don’t think I’m so obscure either… –nor such a charmer as only sings what it hears!

      That first part of your quotation reminds me of a favorite Heraclitan fragment:  Χρυσον [γαρ] οι διζημενοι γην πολλην ορυσσουσι και ευρισκουσιν ολιγον.  (“[For] those seeking gold dig much earth and find little [gold].”)  Heraclitus was also known – even in antiquity – as “Obscure”.

      You’re probably closer to a fine Ode on Melancholy than I to a Homeric translation.  Eastward ho well.