P.E. by Victor Lodato
New Yorker fiction (April 2nd 2012)
P.E. is Parallel Energetics, a bit of fictional New Age nonsense – losers imagine alternative past lives which they hope will turn into better future ones.
Freddie the narrator, is a disciple, and he needs to be. Aged seven his parent’s relationship, already complicated by his mother’s depression, his father’s womanising and their mutual drug addiction, ends with her suicide by hanging. His father takes to sleeping with the rope, and his horrified aunt Helen takes Freddie away.
Twenty years later Freddie lives in Arizona and has turned into an enormously fat janitor, and his father has continued drinking and living off his girlfriends. The story covers the start of his father’s first visit in some time.
The airport meeting is beautifully done. His father not recognising and “barrelling past” the enormous Freddie, the “Holy crap you’ve changed but I’m not going to mention it” conversation, getting a smile off five women before they’ve even left the airport. The older man is still a player. Soon his father is flirting with the waitress, feeding Freddie a deep fried chimichanga, a regional dish, accusing Freddie of being gay, and when they get to the apartment rolling a huge joint. As they get high and misremember their past – meetings which never happened, when did that tooth get knocked out – the story and P.E. start to merge. They fight, make up and threaten to skinny dip together. The tale ends with them in tears over Freddie’s mother, and an idea from Salvatore, the off stage P.E. guru: “Every change of consciousness is accompanied by a loss of fluid”.