Saturday, January 6, 2018

Sweet (Sour) Caroline

Neil Diamond is a complex subject for me.
I didn't grow up with his music,
and by the time it was popular in a retro way,
his legacy had been tainted for me.
Gary.
I still cringe/shudder/gag at the name,
the images it conjures.
He never did anything to me,
let me just say that right up front.
And maybe I'm a flaming asshole
for even describing him with the precision that I will.
But.
He remains the most repulsive person I've ever encountered.
And he lived in my parents' basement for a while.
He was a member of their church,
and he needed a place to stay -
TEMPORARILY
(which turned into several YEARS).
When I was a teenager, and still a member of that church,
he was a fixture of horror for all the children and teenagers -
we made a play on his last name,
turning it from Bartrug to Bugrug,
and just generally being nasty mean children behind his back.
I'm not proud of this,
but to be fair,
he was repellant.
His skin was waxy and pock-marked,
his hair was slicked back with a layer of what appeared to be lard
(and what I later discovered was actually from the fact that he didn't bathe, period).
Not only was he physcially off-putting,
but his personality lacked any of the charms that might have tipped the balance.
He loomed high above us, with a large round belly,
making odd comments and repeating things he overheard us saying, like he was one of us -
a 50-something man, trying to fit in with teenage girls?? Um, no.
Fast forward to my first year away from home.
I called home from college,
in the (least) wild (part of the) west,
and my mother dropped this rancid,
curdled news on me like a gallon of sour milk from a balcony:
Gary would be staying in the bedroom in our dank, dark basement for a little while,
while he got his feet under him.
I was mortified, horrified, and quite unable to accept it.
I got home for the summer and pretended he wasn't there.
He worked nights and slept all day,
so I rarely encountered him.
After demanding answers from my mother about why he was there,
and how long he would be,
and how could she STAND IT???,
she finally admitted that it wasn't great.
She admitted that he made her uncomfortable, too,
and that even my dad wasn't a fan.
She said that she had give him a set of towels
and they had never been touched.
That the shower never ran.
The smell that emanated from the basement was a low, steady wave of human grease.
And the sound?
The sound I could only associate with his awful face for so long afterward?
Neil Diamond's greatest hits.
(shudder)
On his day off, he would crank that album so that it shook our living room floor.
I felt trapped, assaulted.
This sound was the most solid reminder that this unpleasant person
was sharing my most intimate space, my home.
For years, any Neil Diamond music would make my skin crawl.
I couldn't listen to it at all.
I wanted to love it, in all its campy, nostalgic glory like many of my peers did.
I wanted to get sappy and sway back and forth when "Sweet Caroline" filled a stadium or an ice rink,
but instead I had to close my eyes and try to choke back the bile.

Finally, enough time has passed that I can smile past the faded memories of my overly dramatic response to some poor (icky) man in need of a helping hand.
Cheers, Neil Diamond.
Welcome to acceptability.

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