When I think about torture, which I do often, I think of Connie Francis and Milwaukee. It’s not their fault. They’re a fine enough pop singer and city, respectively. It’s just that I can’t help but associate them both with torture.
As for Connie Francis, it’s Wheatley’s fault. He was this guy with cerebral palsy who was my first roommate at the state-operated boarding school for cripples. His most treasured possessions were his two Connie Francis albums. Those were the only albums he had and he played them over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over… I can still hear her voice echoing through the dark, haunted corridors of my psyche:
“Lipstick on your collar
Told a tale on you-woo.
Lipstick on your collar
Said you were untrue-woo.”
And Wheatley played it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over… And he sang along, too, except it was more like a howl. And I’m 13 years old and here I am trapped in this place! I’m slowly morphing into an axe murderer. Everyone has experienced this form of torture and the insanity it induces. It’s like when you’ve got a song stuck in your head and you can’t beat it or shake it out for the life of you. The songs that get stuck in your head are always profoundly annoying songs, like jingles from car dealer commercials or anything by Kenny G. You never get Mozart stuck in your head. And the song burrows in deep like a brain-eating parasite and taunts you with increasing delight until you start searching the internet for the nearest 24-hour lobotomy lab. And if you can’t get a lobotomy on demand soon, you’ll give yourself one through the ear with a knitting needle. Anything to make it stop!
And Milwaukee reminds me of torture because it is the birthplace of the Milwaukee brace. I wore a Milwaukee brace throughout my teens. Here’s a picture:
For those who can’t see, it’s a plastic girdle that fits around the pelvis and hips. A vertical metal bar runs up the front to just under the chin, where a padded perch rests. Two similar bars run parallel up the back to behind the skull, where there is a padded headrest. The idea was to prevent scoliosis.
I remember when I was fitted for my Milwaukee brace there was a sling hanging down from a little crane above my head and the brace maker secured the sling under my chin and cranked me up until I dangled just above the exam table. And then he wrapped plaster around my trunk. I felt like a fucking piñata! I kept expecting kids to burst into the room and beat me with sticks.
When you wear a Milwaukee brace, you feel like you’re wearing a barrel. You feel about as sexy and attractive (and agile and nimble) as a guy wearing a barrel, too. And you’re supposed to wear it 23 hours a day every day forever, only talking it off to bathe.
When I went away to college, living on my own in the dorm, I ditched the Milwaukee brace.
Generations of cripples have experienced this form of torture. It gives me a notion to start a new annual ritual: Smart Ass Cripple’s Good Old Fashioned Down Home Brace Burning. I’ll build a huge bonfire. Cripples from all over the universe can come, bring all their old albatross braces and throw them in. Then we all dance naked.
It will be intensely therapeutic. It will help me exorcise those nightmares of an adolescence spent squeezed into a Milwaukee brace, listening to Connie Francis.