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My brother in his prime could throw a baseball 90 mph and at 6' 7" his backswing and follow through with a golf club are such that I cringe a little each time he drives the imaginary ball 300 yards down the fairway, which is represented by me sitting in an easy chair in front of his fireplace, just six feet away. I slouch down a little so that my head is protected from the accidental tragedy that would be the slipping of the club from his fingers. With each fierce swish my mind pulls up a photograph from the past so that I see and hear a swishing flicker show of images, one of which is not from the past but the future and is glass enclosed framed photographs on the wall in front of me exploding in a Sam Peckinpaw smithereens fashion as the accidentally? released club bounces to and fro like it is under the control of an invisible and not so very adept baton twirler. The pictures from the past are me smarting off to him by asking does he want a medal or a chest to pin it on, or stealing his car keys to sneak out the family car three years before I had a legal license to do such a thing (driving, not stealing), or the accidental? karate chop to his throat that made him reassess his real or imagined superiority over me, in our childhoods.
I got new tires on my truck yesterday and a new windshield last month and will begin driving northeast in the morning and although my stay here in Dallas did not seem to accomplish much towards the ultimate goal of easing my aging mother into the idea of accepting in home care I did learn a thing or two about the incompetence of some agencies that provide such care. My brothers that are local and a sister coming in for a follow up attempt will carry on and despite this string of dismal failures we have faced it would only seem natural that luck will eventually change to an opposite of whatever it has been bringing and for this family that will be a good thing. My mother, meanwhile, is a long way from full blown alzheimers and I expect will carry on just fine until her children are able to get their acts together.
Thoughts From The Battlefield
It's January but it is seventy degrees here so my mom has been watering the lawn. To my ridiculous assertion that it is the middle of winter and besides that--this town suffers from water shortages, she scoffs. She has a sprinkler system which breaks the lawn down into individual sections. Each section can be watered individually, or together with other sections, and in combinations so complex that you are caught smack dab in your smart ass face with the whip cream pie of reality that answers affirmatively to your whining past querulousness self which wondered aloud or to yourself in class--will we really need all this complex math crap in real life?
She seems to be able to figure out the controls well enough even though she is completely unsure of the time of the year. In fact, she loves controls now or anything with dials. The two thermostats in the house will in the course of the day spin from 50 to 85 and from heat to cool.
I upset her earlier in the day by trying to take her to the doctor again but she has forgotten that now and so we are starting fresh. She forgot that I had called in my brother for backup, and that that is why the front door and storm door were unlocked early this morning. She is blaming that on the replacement paper boy, whom she doesn't like. The regular paper boy, whom she likes very much, will go on vacation in May and possibly due to the unseasonably warm weather here, she thinks it is May, and that her paper boy has left her in the hands of "that other guy."
She had a boyfriend before dad and she would have married him but he got killed in WWII. Dad survived the war but cancer killed him 12 years ago.
She was juggled from parents to grandparents to an aunt in her early youth. She was a country girl who went to a big state university in the mid thirties, back in the day when they called role in class, and the great depression was not a distant memory. Her somewhat mysterious parents gave her a boy's name, she thinks it may have been the name of a horse on the family farm, and so in the big college classrooms she would endure the giggles of her more sophisticated classmates when an instructor would call out her name and in a broken voice almost as ridiculous as a callous boy making fun of a country hick with a high pitched voice, she would say--heeereuh.
After we have difficult converstations about the need for her to have a some hired assistance in the home, a thing she will not admit the need for, she might be found sitting on a short children's chair, stooping over to detail clean a return air vent, or the tracks of the sliding glass doors, and weeping.
On the bar by the dining table there are leaned pictures of grandchildren and great grandchildren whom she really doesn't know anymore. Lately to this grouping has been added a little snapshot of a drop dead handsome black man who worked in the off campus dormitory in which she lived as a college student. I wish she would talk about him more; he has a kind face, and I bet was nice to her.
By the way, I failed in that attempt to get her to the doctor. She's a good fighter, wily, determined, and focussed on nothing but the battle. I though, like the invader of a foreign land who is motivated by questionably good intentions, am clearly outgunned here and doomed to failure, or at best--a very unpleasant victory.
I can't even imagine what my mom is thinking about this Spec Bebop by Yo La Tengo which is coming from the device on my lap. She is 87. I am 45. Both of us are a little older than the Yo La Tengo core audience. Speaking of old I have through recent Internet searches found some comforting definitions of what was previously for me a gray area. What is elderly, I had wondered? According to at least one medical site you may be considered "elderly" the day after you turn 55.
And if you are elderly then it stands to reason that you should start considering into which assisting living facility you are going to insert yourself for those golden years.
There is a long waiting list for that one in Amsterdam which is exclusively for heroin addicts. The idea of that sort of appeals to me. I am not a heroin addict, or even a casual user, but I will not rule out a future which includes heroin addiction. Lorina was going to fly down here for a few days to...hey never mind what she was coming down here for, voyeur. The thing is, you can fly to Amsterdam cheaper than she could have flown down here on short notice and I'd rather save my money and hers for my future heroin addiction in Amsterdam, which I understand can be quite costly.
Here is something to think about. Don't get too used to the idea of independence. You are going to have to give it up someday and like all things, the longer you hold onto it, the harder it is to give up. Perhaps it is similar to a heroin addiction in that sense. I gave up cigarettes back in 98 so about giving up addictive behaviour I have some insight. Honestly though, if I had known giving up cigarettes was that hard, I would have at least been snorting heroin. I mean you could literally fill up a building as big as a school with subject matter that is not taught in schools. Of course, as a fan of brevity, I can also see the allure of short and simple messages like--Just Say No, or, Falling Bullets Kill. I'm not so crazy about stringing alot of ideas together cohesively. I think cohesion is misleading.
I think my mom thinks I am mad at her because she turned down my invitation to have dinner at a brother's house tonight. She is associating turning down that invitation with how mad and frustrated I was when she fought me about going to the doctor two days ago. I told her it was fine, really no big deal, but even to me it sounds like I may just be saying that, and that I really am mad.
In the white space between these two paragraphs is her sitting down over there across from me and pursuing one of her more frequent hallucinations. That there are other house guests here besides me. I ease her into the truth of the matter and she says--well, maybe I am losing my mind. It would be unlike me to respond otherwise, so I say--well, maybe you are, which elicits a smile. Partly she thinks the person up there is my girlfriend, Lorina, and partly she thinks it is the care-giver we have been threatening to force on her. I assure her there is nobody up there (yet), nor did anyone sleep up there last night, besides me. She goes into the utility room and from the freezer brings a whole stack of frozen dinners and sort of fans them in front of me to get my opinion on lunch. I am trying not to do too much for her because I want to see what she does on her own, seeing as how she persists with the assertion that she can take care of herself. We have lasagna. She was a pretty good cook back in the day. Now though I am happy to see her do the frozen thing without too much assistance.
The next day my brother came over and tried to get her to sign some papers but she got mad at him. He talked with her in a rational manner for a pretty fair amount of time and you could tell she wanted to believe him but, no, something's up and she knows it. My brother took his grand daughter and left to go spend 60 minutes in rush hour traffic, without signed papers.
Later we watched TV. She asked me during a commercial break what I had on tap for tomorrow and I said I was hoping we could do that doctor's appt., get it over with. She started in with her argument and I said no, uh, uh, not this time. You don't want to go, we won't go. You win. You now get to do whatever you please, whenever you please. You are a big girl. I can't fight with you over every single little thing. In answer to her question was I mad at her I said yes. She left the room. After a moment I went to check on her and I could hear her taking a bath. Such as she does, which sounds like she is conserving water. She came back into the room some time later, in her nightgown, and silently handed me a slip of paper, and then left the room. It said--I will go, against my will.
How are you going to intefere with my business today? she said.
Not at all today, I said. I rescheduled the doctor's appt. for 7:30 Friday. But today you will be glad to know there is nothing on the calendar.
Don't hold your breath, she said.
About what? I said.
I'm not going anywhere that early in the morning.
Yes you are.
Don't count on it.
I am counting on it.
Because for three grueling hours yesterday morning you fought me about going to the doctor and when you finally relented, and we did go, the nurses had to very politely, and apologetically, inform me that when they called earlier in the week to confirm the appt., you told them to cancel it. And they went to some trouble to find another spot. I gave them other local numbers to call. What happened yesterday is not going to happen again.
I guess my goose is cooked.
I don't remember doing that.
I believe that, I said.
Well, don't count on me going.
You know, you have asked us to not treat you like a child and I want you to know that I am not treating you like a child. Because if you were my child I would have grounded you a long time ago.
I know that, she said.
It's just a routine yearly checkup. The same thing you have done all your life.
I don't know that doctor.
You went to him last week.
I don't remember that.
You did, it was on Thursday, and we fought about that one for awhile too. But then another of your meddling sons came over and took you.
Then why I am I going to him again?
Because the checkup last week was to look into your recent memory loss and this other visit is for blood work. The same type of physical you have been doing for many years.
Who took me?
AJ took you.
Did I tell you about not remembering who he was that one time, I think that was at a doctor's office too.
Yes, I think you mentioned that (all hyperbole aside, perhaps sixty or seventy times in the two weeks I have been here).
I just don't see why I have to keep going to the doctor. You can't do anything about memory loss.
I know. But we wouldn't have to go again if you hadn't canceled yesterday's appt. We would have been done with doctor's visits for awhile.
Who canceled the appt., she said.
You did, I said.
I really don't remember that. But those darn people down there should have tried to fit me in. That really gets me boiling. We drove all the way there and then had to come right back.
Yes. It will go better on Friday.
Don't count on it, she said.
Note To The Youthful
Had a woman do an assessment here at the house yesterday to determine the needs of my mother for whom me and my siblings are trying to set up some in home assistance so she can stay in this home she has lived in for forty years (the last 12 by herself).
I had thought it was going to be an African woman with a slight accent but it turned out to be an American-Nordic woman with a somewhat forced sense of humor.
I think it went pretty well. After the woman left my mom slammed her fist down on the dining room table and said, "I do not want that woman in this house ever again!"
Note to the youthful: do not get old.
Who's Your Mama?
In my twenties I was once in Mexico for several weeks and I met a bunch of Europeans in Palenque and a Scandanavian or two and after awhile I was saying yah instead of yeah. The affected speech wore off after I came back to the USA and likewise I'm hoping that once I leave Dallas I won't be so tempted to use my cell phone indoors at public places. Today I was at the big Half Price Books on Northwest Highway and I carried on a pretty long very personal conversation in the stacks looking for a particular Vollman. The Vollman did not exist. I got a Vonnegut and a Gide just to buy something. My brother was suggesting I not tell my mom he was bringing an African woman with a slight accent into mom's home, tomorrow at 2 p.m. I've been telling her everything though. He said to use my judgement. I'm a shitty liar. I'm great at being reticent, or absolutely mute, but get me started and I just spew and spew and spew. I share with my siblings the desire to see a care-giver of some sort sharing this house with her on a part time basis. So I am not separating myself from my siblings on this. We have different methodologies, that's all.
Are ya'll ganging up on me?
All of us, all six.
Because you are losing parts of your memory and over time that could become dangerous for you.
Do you think my house is dirty?
Then why do I need some old woman in here doing for me what I can do for myself?
So that before your memory gets really bad you can have some say in who the person is that helps you
But I don't need help.
Everybody needs help.
I'm 87 years old and I've lived a good life.
Yes, we want you to keep up the good work.
Are ya'll talking about me behind my back?
Every couple of weeks, by phone, on conference calls.
I think its because we love you.
It's demoralizing to be treated like a child when you've lived through two wars and done a lot of things that none of ya'll will ever do.
I can see how it would be.
They took my car away from me last year.
I only ever drove to the grocery store a block away.
I know, but the people on the roads around here are lunatics. Its gotten worse over the years. But if you want to drive your car around, I'll go with you right now.
They took the key.
I have one.
It doesn't run.
Just the battery, I can get it started. Come on, change out of your nightgown and I'll get it started for you right now.
They treat me like a child.
I wish they wouldn't.
Instead Of Cheerful
There is an undercurrent of resentment which in my opinion belies the outward show of cooperation between the group. Who resents whom or what and why is something inside a variable of seven.
There is a feeling among three, six, or none, that emotion should be contained until the business is effectively performed to a satisfactory end. There is in this no mention of product but there may be one.
One or all have thoughts about the questionable benefits of longevity.
Everywhere around there is larger tragedy to dwarf that of the individual but the individuals are connected with no dissent on the issue of self-involvement.
Some are suspicious of the emotional hoax and some are just waiting it out.
The product lacks patience and so do the buyers.
No thing remains.
Twelve Hundred Miles Back
One thing I can’t get over is at the library in the New Orleans Lakeview area where I was hoping to check my email by borrowed computer the librarian asked me a question and when I was in the middle of answering her she shushed me and reminded me of my location, which as I have already mentioned, was at a library. Or in a library, I don’t know, I was, and am now, thinking about it, a little nonplussed. I mean most of the time I mumble like that guy on the King of the Hill cartoon, Boomhauer? So I’m really used to people saying--what? Or, I’m sorry, could you repeat that? But, shushing me for talking too loud, well, it’s just unheard of.
Then I’m sitting there, at the express computer, because after being shushed I really did not want to take a full hour, “no, I’ll only need fifteen minutes,” I said, and so I’m getting right to it, annoyed some by the library’s homepage, and the other librarians, standing right next to the librarian who shushed me, are yakking up a storm, and the man librarian, acting like the chief, keeps walking right behind me while I try to type very important stuff, just aimlessly wandering back and forth this guy is, until he collars another computer user who had gotten up to ask “my” librarian a question at full volume, and he, the seeming chief librarian, he says to this guy, at full volume, do you know much about football?
I’m having my first ever conference call that evening and I forgot the phone number and the ID/password numbers so I am accessing that information through my email inbox via the world wide web of the internets on a borrowed public library computer. I didn’t have my library card in my wallet, it was in the truck, my name is…was what I was explaining when I got shushed. The reason I come to Lakeview is because it is a rich neighborhood and I reason that rich people will have their own computers at home so that will free up the six computers for loan, for me. I have never, in the past, when living in New Orleans, and being temporarily without internet access, had a problem getting on a computer here, and needless to say, had never up until this day, been shushed. I don’t like noisy people myself, but I don’t shush them. Of course, in fairness, I’m not paid to do that, and I might feel differently if I were.
Anyhow, the guy says he knows a little and the librarian says how he can’t remember the name of the former quarterback for Dallas and no one could accurately guess who he might mean so the guy does what any half-assed football aficionado would do, he just starts throwing out names. Vinny Testeverde? Quincy Carter? Troy Aikman? The librarian says, that’s it, Troy Aikman.
Later, in some other town between Virginia and Texas, Lorina is finishing up what was turning out to be a rather complicated drive-thru order at a burger joint. The person taking the order could not hear Lorina properly and I, who wasn’t having anything and generally can’t be heard at all, mumbled something under my breath at the precise moment the complicated order was completed, and the drive-thru voice, apparently hearing me perfectly from the greater distance, said—what? Lorina looked at me with a look that screamed if you wanted something why didn’t you say so sooner and I just stared back blankly. Lorina was asking me what I wanted while the drive-thru person said will that complete your order. Lorina had the expression of someone who is having a run of bad luck. I told Lorina I didn’t want anything, hoping she would have better luck conveying that message than the she did the original order. That the world was conspiring to make things unnecessarily difficult for Lorina was a thing I could be sympathetic of because this was for me just like being shushed at the library. Clearly, whoever’s mixing my sound is falling down. I thought I had let that shushing incident go but I hadn’t. Reclining my seat as Lorina accelerated up the on-ramp I began humming, out loud or to myself (I was at this point unsure of volume levels in general), the Steppenwolf classic, Born to Be Wild.
Irrationally juxtaposing time schemes has me approaching New Orleans after 19 hours driving straight and Lorina is behind the wheel again so I have the luxury to contemplate executive decisions. “Let’s stop here in Slidell and go Walmart shopping at 11 p.m.” Lorina almost got sidetracked on a search for toilet paper but I, on the verge of a Walmart panic attack, assured her that not only can one get liquor and beer twenty-four hours in New Orleans, but also toilet paper. We could get the little stuff at the 24 hour quickie mart on Broad, near the house. At Walmart we got one of those queen-sized air mattresses with built in pump.
When we got to my house on Rocheblave we were met by two young men, one near college graduate and one near high school graduate/hopeful college graduate, who were preparing the house for our arrival by turning on the heat and laying out essentials, including toilet paper. When you haven’t been around for six months and are asking after people there is an obligatory recitation of who has been shot and who is in jail. The one bullet riddled young man from that Dumaine/Dorgenois area where I once lived was said to be upset because one of the bullets fired at him, one of the ones not entering his chest, hit him in the finger and sort of tore it off. The near college graduate, a former sixth man on a team that won the 5A state high school basketball championship, had in fact been on the very same steps where the shooting occurred when we arrived after 19 hours driving to pick up a key for my house, around the corner. I had slowed down and said hey E, and he had said he’d be right over, which I didn’t fully understand, until after getting the key, and stopping for toilet paper and water, and then proceeding to my house, where there he was, with J, being the upstanding citizen that he is. They had not executed this bit of kindness on their own, but with a little guidance had provided us with drinking water, toilet paper, and a frozen pizza.
In New Orleans Lorina and I attended a tourist site or two and leaving the French Quarter, walking through Armstrong Park, where alongside of you know I park on St. Philip, we saw right before exiting the park these two guys taking cuttings from the rose bushes. I’d never really paid much attention to the rose bushes in Armstrong Park. Lorina cupped a bloom in her hand, in December mind you, and sniffed. I will do whatever Lorina does, if it doesn’t seem harmful. I veered from Lorina at one point and on or near the seventh bush one of the guys, attending to a bush across the lagoon from us, said, that one there is my favorite. I carefully chose a bloom and sniffed. It was, as advertised, kickass. What are you gonna say? I said, nice. The guy said the bush was from 1830. From a cutting I would guess because the park hasn’t been around but since the mid 20th century.
I saved all my business for the last day. Made a run with Charles from across the street to the dump on Elysian Fields to get rid of all that stuff I had paid him to get rid of before leaving back in May. I paid him again. Got a brake tag/inspection sticker for the truck; went to the library and got shushed; went to the vintage record store on Magazine; visited my nephew so I could have a comfortable safe place from which to participate in a conference call; made a promise which is bringing me a little pain; called the person I was supposed to meet and said I couldn’t; went to a fancy ice cream shop to meet with Lorina’s college chum and chum’s husband; then had dinner at Liuzza’s on Bienville.
In Austin we stayed with Jose, who is projecting retirement to Puerto Escondido within the next year or two. And who am I kidding if I don’t admit to at least the consideration of being his chief bottle washer, or flower gardener. We ate Mexican food pretty much breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for three days. First place goes to El Azteca, on E. Seventh. We had spent the bulk of that day at Pedernales state park, which is near where Willie Nelson used to have a spread before the IRS kicked his ass. We weren’t on drugs but if we had known the sky was going to look like that, we would have been. We did the Continental Club on S. Congress one night, heard this bluesy, charismatic rocker, Jon Dee Graham, and thought him pretty good. Though the second hand smoke was enough to make me want to quit smoking, again.
In Dallas my mom remembered my name but recited a story about the ignominious forgetting of who my brother was and forgetting she had just told us, told the story a pretty good number of times, over just one dinner. One brother and his whole family and another brother with abbreviated family came over for Christmas Eve. Everyone seemed a little uncomfortable and ready to leave from the get go and I don’t know if it was because we are recently all plotting to help dear old mom, against her will (is it an intervention?) or if they all just had better things to be doing on Christmas Eve. I do know one thing though. They brought all these mom’s recipe cookies with them and then took them with them when they left. Yeah, I know you made a lemon cream pie especially for me but you could have left a few of those cookies, dudes, dudettes. How I expressed that last idea without cussing I’ll never know. Perhaps this will help—I’m a selfish bastard.
At that first ever for me conference call in New Orleans with my five siblings to discuss the ongoing realities of old age dementia as they pertain to our mother, I was feeling a little like the youngest son who has skated by on baby charm for most of his life and feeling that I had little to offer in this conversation that was all about bank accounts and powers of attorney and doctors visits I just spoke up and offered to come stay with mom for the month of January, to help execute this plan we are doing our bests to lay out perfectly in an imperfect world, and to say again, against mom’s will.
Lorina and I got back to Virginia a few days ago and she just came by to express no hard feelings that I’m not attending her New Years gig tonite, she being the trumpet player in a punk band (and me being the, cough, slightly older, curmudgeonly, non-pogo-dancing boyfriend). Tomorrow, if she doesn’t win the highway patrol lottery and end up DUI in jail, we’ll have collards, and black eyed peas, and cornbread. The next day I’ll drive the twelve hundred miles back to Dallas.
I half nuked 5 medium baking potatoes, although half boiling or half baking them is better, then I sliced them into medallions and tossed them into a pan with a liberal amount of olive oil and butter in which already were sautéing a half a onion and two cloves of chopped garlic. The pan was heaped high, a veritable mound of potato medallions, and I had to be careful upon the tossing not to let them spill over onto the stove top, perhaps to be lost forever under a burner, to commune with other bits of petrified food like loose change under a bed pretending to be covered with mold that turns out to be, in the end, simply, dust bunnies.
I lowered the heat and went up to the bighouse to check my email. I had missed the hearty breakfast I needed and had eaten instead two cinnamon rolls and coffee. That had burned off before I even thought about going out to perform chores in the fifteen degree windchill. It was supposed to warm up a little so I would just wait on it some. I checked my email again. Responded to one or two.
It’s cold here. I later in the evening talked to a Canadian writer who will perform cat and looking after houses duties in my absence and she said the cold didn’t bother her until it got below zero but she was saying that in my living room with coat all the way buttoned up and toboggan still pulled low over her ears. I’m just saying.
Back at the caretaker’s cottage I checked the potatoes, thought they looked a little unpleasantly translucent like they do when you try to pan fry them raw, and went back outside. I rearranged the myriad garage objects and tossed several bags of garbage into the back of the truck and then went back inside. I checked the heat on the potatoes, stood staring at Miss December on the Stihl calendar just to the left of the stove top and thought how she didn’t look cold, and went out and started up the truck.
I got that windshield fixed the other day, after a year of driving with spider web diffusion right up in my face. The crack was caused by a hurricane that had land fallen at New Orleans and then traveled 999 miles (first dropping the hurricane tag, then the tropical storm tag, to become simply a storm named Isobel) to reach my trucked parked under an American chestnut tree in Virginia. The sixty mile per hour wind propelled chestnut projectile had caused the spider webbing dead center drivers side and I had momentarily thought it a bad omen but drove cross country to the American ghetto a couple of times over the next year to debunk that myth. And like you think New Orleans is the only place Lagniappe happens the local Rappahannock mechanic also fixed the electric passenger side window without charge or for that matter without telling me he had done it.
I drove over to Rock Mills to the dump, off loaded, and then drove back to the house. I tossed the potatoes a bit and went back outside. I backed the truck halfway into the garage and took off the camper shell, leaned it up in the back corner. Back inside the potatoes were looking a little forgotten so I turned up the heat and gave them a light chopping with the spatula.
I drove into town to check the PO Box but got blocked at the end of the driveway by SF. We got out of our vehicles and shook hands.
“Did your friend get that bush hog blade off?”
“Oh, yes, and she wanted me to tell you thanks a lot for the advice, you know, its good to have somebody who’s done it before…”
“Yeah, of course...did she sharpen it?
“Not yet, and we’re going south in a few days so she probably won’t get to it before we get back.”
“Do you have it here with you?”
“Well, I did yesterday, but I don’t now.”
“If you want, if you leave it up the shed while you’re gone, I could sharpen it for you.”
“That’s a nice offer, I don’t know, she may want to do it herself so she knows how, but maybe you doing it once would give her the look of it and that would be good, so, I’ll ask her.”
“Well yeah, just leave it in the shed back there…”
This went on for a good while. I was starting to worry about those potatoes. Forgive the cliché but real men don’t worry about potatoes. SF told me his son’s girlfriend was having another baby. I know the son. I can mess with him a little. And I can’t resist corn pone humor. I said,
“Well good for them. I’m just wondering though, has Jr. figured out what causes that?”
I caught SF off guard with that one but he chuckled and said he wasn’t sure.
I said, “Well, you send the boy over and let me have a little talk with him, because it looks like maybe you never had that talk with him.”
SF laughed. “I’ll do that. I’ll send him over.”
“Yeah, send him over, I worry about Jr…”
Jesus, what was going to happen to my potatoes? I tried a bit of let’s wrap this up body language. It didn’t work right away but after a few more topic changes we shook hands and I was free to go. I paused, thinking maybe I should back up and check on those potatoes, but…come on, don’t be a sissy. I drove the few blocks into town. The mailbox yielded some insurance papers and a couple of juicy offers to get further into debt.
When I got back inside the bottom layer of potatoes was predictably blackened. Perfect. Mission almost accomplished. I tossed them and cracked a couple of brown eggs into a separate pan, with butter. I grated some cheese. The potatoes, onions, and garlic, had reduced to about a third of their original size. I put them in a bowl and threw on top the cheese. The yolk of a perfect over medium fried egg will run between 3/8th and 5/8th of and inch, on a level surface. I laid my nearly perfect eggs on top of the cheese which was already melted on top of the potatoes, which I forgot to mention, were lightly salted and peppered. Damn, lunchtime already.
In the afternoon, properly fueled, I went to the Co-op, and wanting to go easy on my truck made three separate trips out of loading and unloading 45 bags of shredded pine bark mulch for the bighouse flower garden, and the new (anticipating spring) flower bed I recently dug by my driveway. When I’m tripping, you know, I just mean daydreaming, although truth be told, I do have lucid daydreams, I see flowers spreading like the growing fractures of a cracked windshield, all over this forty acres, with me being the mule.
I miscalculated by a good bit on that mulch. I’ll need 30 more bags to finish out that bighouse bed. It’s a little cold right now, but it should warm up some later in the day…
The Shenandoah National Park is open 24 hours so if you go through the booth at the Thornton Gap entrance and the ranger says, after welcoming you--the park is closing at 5 p.m., then you know something is up. It was snowing a little bit so Lorina and I presumed that to be the reason for the early closing. I said, oh we plan on being gone by then, even though 5 p.m. was only two hours away and that really doesn’t amount to much of a hike. We were getting a late start. People do hike at night but usually under full moons any time after the leaves have fallen. Under new moon, early park closing, and snow, it would be considered bad form to be hiking in the evening hours.
Lorina couldn’t think of the trail name until the last minute and then it turned out to be Stony Man. It was Sunday and therefore not as good, generally speaking, as midweek hiking, because during the week you run much less the risk of running into that most dangerous and sometimes frightful park animal, hah, the human being. But this was one of the first days of let’s put on long johns sort of weather and being the second week of December, most people probably are trying to stimulate the US economy with Christmas shopping. We only saw two other cars in the park, none in the Stony Man parking lot.
One of the more interesting bits of trivia regarding the Shenandoah Park is that the range, which goes under different names (Appalachian, etc.) to confuse people, was once, like before man walked the earth, much bigger, sharper, jagged, and taller than it is now and there is suggested the similarity between either the Rockies or the Swiss Alps. For me why this is a particularly gratifying piece of trivia is because the range is considerably less spectacular in the tall jagged sense but so much more pleasing in the round, green with flowing streams and waterfalls sense, even as it provides the ancient evidence of shear granite cliffs (for rock climbers, and geology buffs) of an age which is purported to be some of the oldest on the planet earth. So, what I’m saying is, whatever bit of slow moving apocalypse occurred here, implies a brighter future. I am not here advocating the use of atomic bombs in the Rockies and the Alps, for those who require instant gratification. That would not be a satisfactory shortcut.
We are hiking up the mountain a ways and the cold air hurts the lungs a little but the path is not so steep as to be painfully annoying. It is snowing soft sleet pellets and the trail is lightly dusted white. Lorina shows me the first four story cliff face and I can see how it might be climbable, even for a moderately athletic person, but I don’t even like roller coasters or other similarly safe thrills, so I don’t think I would climb this. I’m not sure I would be able to shake the memory of a casual friend of mine who a few years ago fell four stories during a rock climb. Even though, really, he doesn’t have hardly a glimmer of perceptible limp at this writing. I don’t mind listening to Lorina’s instruction though because people often change their minds and so should I ever find myself three stories up a four story climb, I would like to have as much knowledge about the sport as possible.
We walk on, the trail is pretty much level at this point, and Lorina suggests we turn around because my truck is rear wheel drive and way too light in that rear. The drive down the mountain, with no other traffic to melt the snow, would soon be, or could soon be, treacherous. I agree we should turn around, but let’s walk just a couple hundred yards more. So we do that, and then pause. The snow/sleet is not falling anymore. Lorina nods up the hill and says, wanna hike off trail for awhile? I say yes and she leads the way up and I just follow, in most cases, the same indentations left by her boots in the rich, rocky soil, occasionally having to grab onto a tree trunk or a chunk of granite cropping to pull myself up. After the trail proper has become a memory I ask if she is pretty sure about bisecting the trail again by this off trail methodology. She is sure.
I feel pretty good and it’s not windy and I have a lighter and there is lots of dry wood on the ground. I like it here. I could live here for one night. Probably wouldn’t sleep much and I didn’t bring any snacks and the park ranger would wag her finger at us if she ever got a chance but people get lost, it happens all the time.
We were lost for awhile but as a follower I felt less the mild panic than did Lorina, who had to deal not only with finding the path but with that distraction of emotion related to diminishing certainty. She’d been reading my mind for about a week so instead of talking I just thought, its ok Lorina, we can sleep here, it’s cozy. I’m glad we didn’t have to though. We changed directions once and I thought of that Blair Witch movie, lost in the woods going in circles and all, but in the end there was a white streak ahead of us. Instead of yelling out, there’s the trail, I just kept walking because the streak didn’t look that different from the dusting of snow along a foreground streak caused by snow on a fallen log. Shortly, Lorina said, there it is, and reaching it ahead of me got down on her hands and knees and kissed the sugar coated earth. I said I bet that is only partly in humor and she said goddamn right. Not being lost is only to be properly appreciated after being pretty well lost on a potentially snowy night. Although, back on the trail, the happiness related to comfort and certainty is somewhat tinged by a sense of melancholy which is connected to the memory of that ecstatic freedom of being truly lost and disconnected from all things familiar. I hope to get back out there before driving down to New Orleans on Friday.
The Pink Lee Press On Nail
I’m painting the walls in the basement while these two black guys speaking French are putting together the pool table. We don’t talk to each other that much. Their job requires a certain level of expertise and mine really doesn’t. I could actually talk and still do an adequate job and truly they probably could too but it doesn’t seem like we have that much to say on this particular day. Honestly, I’m not even talking to myself that much. So it’s cool, we’re working peacefully in this room together except there’s really no reason they should have to smell paint fumes in the course of their job. I’ve got a couple of windows open and the outside entrance door too. They don’t complain about the fumes, unless they are doing it in French. I don’t speak French but I used to speak a little Spanish and I’m getting the idea of some their words. When they laugh I don’t assume they are laughing at me, but they could be. I am not without humorous content. It seems more like straight French rather than that totally poetic sounding Creole that the Haitians speak, with whom I am somewhat familiar from my days in New Orleans. I could ask them where they are from, because I am curious, but I am also tired of predictable questions. Hell, maybe they’re from France, or Canada.
One of the guys asks me (in English) at a certain point if he is in my way and I say, no, not at all, I’ve got plenty to do in other parts of the room. It is a large, finished basement, easily bigger than the house I live in. I start picking up the minutiae of five year old boy treasure and transfer it from its chaotic placement around the room, into a short sided cardboard box. Then I move a low, free-standing bookcase or knick knack shelf away from the wall. I throw down a drop cloth. I climb a six foot ladder and paint with a brush where the wall meets the ceiling. It’s called cutting in. Then I climb down and paint with a brush where the wall meets the baseboard. Then I get a roller and dip and roll it around in a five gallon bucket half full of paint, lift it up over the bucket, turn it around a few times by spinning the roller handle, and then put it to the wall and roll until it’s dry. Repeat. I’m working slowly now because I don’t want the pool table guys to think I’m waiting on them. But I am.
There are Ritz cracker crumbs all over the floor but I didn’t do it.
The five year old comes down and wants to help but I tell him he has to change his clothes. He goes up two floors and comes back and I tell him the pants are ok but the shirt is too good, change it. He leaves and comes back later looking as blue collar as he’s gonna get. He’s a barefoot painter like me. I lay down some extra protection against an already painted small section of wall; give him as much instruction as he’s going to take and presto, instant painter. He makes a few mistakes like all the five year olds I’ve employed but his work ethic is solid and he doesn’t talk back. Although, at five, he’s a little too literate for this type of work. He asks at one point—will this paint dry quickly? I want to grab him by the shoulders and say, boy, you can’t use adverbs in this line of work, but I don’t. He wouldn’t get it. It wouldn’t be funny to anyone but I and I don’t even think it’s that funny. After awhile he gets bored and goes back upstairs.
The two men finish the table and the bubble on the torpedo level is true blue so I initial here, here, here, and here, and sign here. As a duly appointed agent of the owner I tip the guys forty bucks and they take off.
I start painting the last long wall, the one closest to the brand new six million dollar pool table. Somebody upstairs, and I’m not going to say who, thinks it would be a good idea to let run free down here with me the five year old, the eight year old and his precocious friend, and the five year olds’ three and a half year old girlfriend. There was in attendance a young, polite, perhaps college freshman, perhaps Yalie, I’m not sure, but he made five people sharing the room with me at the end of a long day. He did reign the kids in sufficient enough for me to feel less the need to duct tape them all in a screaming ball and toss them out into the cold gray drizzle, so his attendance is not to be underestimated.
But before the perhaps college freshman came down the eight year old starts racking them up. Truly as little as possible but sometimes I treat other people’s children as if they were my own, and here let me not be remiss in mentioning that I have no children of my own. I do not in the least little bit pretend that this temporary treatment of other people’s children as my own is a good thing, but to me, watching a child with his full store of post school energy, stuck inside because of the rain, start to do something that to me seems like a bad idea, well, it is just as if I were watching him put his hand in a roaring campfire. And here do not let me pretend that I’m all about the altruism because part of me wants to let him put his hand in the roaring campfire as the quickest path to the hard earned, and therefore well remembered, lesson.
“No, you can’t do that now.”
You know he’s petulant. He says, “why?” with all the grating confidence of five Lee Press On Nails across a chalkboard.
I’m good for one “why?” I explain how it is that I’m painting the wall right by the pool table and how I need to finish (so I can go hide somewhere away from screaming children). By implication of my demeanor I am also saying—I was here first, I am bigger than you, and, I am meaner than you. I am an ogre sure as they are in fairy tales and after I’m done eating you I will use one of your rib bones for a toothpick.
The eight year old backs off a little bit. But is soon to be joined by his precocious friend who is to my present state of mind, for all intents and purposes, a giant Lee Press On Nail. A pink one. The two of them start talking about playing kickball, which is one of the main activities that go on in this room. There was even talk of putting the new six million dollar pool table so close to the wall as to render it useless, just to keep it out of the kickball base path.
“No, you can’t play kickball now.” (Large, freshly painted, still wet wall, and bouncing kickball, and 4’X8’ six million dollar horizontal surface.)
The Pink Lee Press On Nail says—“why?”
(Circuits sizzle, little puffs of smoke are emitting from out of my ears, and nose, and corner of my mouth as it cracks open on one side in grimace. I hear as if from down a long tunnel the words—why don’t you all go play down in the basement.)
Before I even know I’m saying it, I’m saying it. I say—Just because.
If you were ever yourself a petulant kid you know that was one of the things you swore to God you would never say to your own kids, because, it makes no sense. To a kid, anyway.
The Pink Lee Press On Nail says—“that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yes it does.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“What you mean is, is that it isn’t a complete sentence, and it’s not, but it does make sense.”
All these kids, they go to schools that don’t employ the use of heavy wooden paddles with holes drilled in them.
“Look kid, its idiomatic shorthand for—‘you’re about to get my backhand.’ When an adult says to you ‘just because’ you had better believe the words have meaning. In a world where parents have evolved to a point of not smacking their kids anymore the words ‘just because’ could possibly mean that you are about to be made an exception of."
“You ended a sentence with a preposition.”
“So did you.”
Dogs are forever showing magical powers so if one looks at you when you are leaving, all uncharacteristically sad like, it makes you wonder if he is forecasting your imminent demise. Doesn’t it? It did me at the time, a few days ago, and then later, which was this morning, it did again as I remembered it after escaping by seconds the high speed rear ending of my truck into the carpet van on 66, returning to the bucolic Rappahannock from the less than bucolic DC area. I had been daydreaming towards the left, amazed by the rush hour into DC, on the other side of the highway, 37 miles out.
I survived it though, and that’s all that matters, end of story.
A couple of days before the dog implied my premature ending I had almost died of fright or had a bad case of shoppingphobia in a Charlottesville, VA. Shopping mall, buying a somewhat sub semi-formal outfit for a semi-formal party, which seems a contradiction of terms (formal party, and for that matter, jimlouis buys outfit), but isn’t, and this the many of you who leave your homes to attend soirées on a regular basis no doubt know. I had tried on the sport coat, semi-formal all the way baby, and elicited a veritable whoosh of you so hot from the attending Lorina, but me and Perry Ellis could not agree on the 300 dollar price tag. If my so-called salesman hadn’t been as hopelessly lanky and unable to find clothes in his own store and also been hands off in his approach I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. I picked up a cashmere sweater and dropped it like a hot cashmere potato when I saw the 200 dollar price tag. Except for at the Thrift City next to the Rock n’ Bowl in New Orleans, I haven’t done any actual clothes type shopping in, uh, going on thirty years or so, and that would I guess extend into the past beyond New Orleans but I can’t pull up the cities or the names of the thrift stores for you, beyond the obvious, Goodwill and Salvation Army, and Poughkeepsie (which is a joke because you know I never lived, or shopped, in Poughkeepsie.)
I may go into Culpeper and if I see Perry the Hobo I might ask if he’ll sell me his jacket for 25. Other than that though I’ll just go jacketless, and besides, who’s got all this disposable income to be getting caviar and red wine stains out of 300 dollar jackets? I know what you’re thinking. 300 dollars? My socks cost more than that. Right? And, Perry Ellis? Where were you shopping, Walmart? Just leave me alone.
But it was a long day, with more shopping than I mentioned, and, Charlottesville is not just around the corner from here and that was a round trip on a day we also were round tripping to and from DC to hear The Magnetic Fields at the Birchmere (in, actually, Alexandria.) It was crazy in Charlottesville with all the manic Christmas shopper energy and that per-capita higher than normal number of assholes in the Lowe’s parking lot (I was one of them, I admit.) Also in the parking lot Sponge Bob’s best friend, Patrick, was up 4 stories high in one of those bucketed fire rescue cranes and for the life of me I could not think of his name. Lorina wanted to know how, without a TV, I am so up on this Sponge Bob character (“What?!!!!,” I challenged, “you don’t know Sponge Bob?). This was before, after, or in between one of the times I wanted to merck her as a result of me not handling the stress very well. So if I couldn’t remember Patrick’s name then how come I can now you may wonder? I have a five-year-old friend and yesterday I asked him, twice. “Patrick,” he said, each time, with little, or no, incredulity regarding the scope of my ignorance.
But sure, later I got to go drown my manic depression in the dilaudid-esque well of Magnetic Fields. Which probably would have worked fine if not for the giggly group sitting behind us, who made being depressed not at all enjoyable and more like being in the Lowes parking lot all over again. So we got up and stood but the bouncer said we couldn’t stand, had to sit, and if I pointed out the offending parties “he would take care of it.” No thanks, I smirked, and we went to find seats, next to the only (I swear) other group of happy people in the room. I mean, you can’t really begrudge people happiness, but it is a thing, I think, that can be inappropriate to certain times and space. That bouncer would have been better employed in kicking all the happy people out on their asses. Smiling would be allowed but prolonged head-bobbing and quirky happy chatter would get you thrown out. If voted for, I will run. If elected, I will be an asshole.
Sitting And Traveling
The thing about today is that for all the so-called daylight hours there is only one moment. There is no progression of time. There is no tracking of the sun across the sky. There is only the one monochromatic lighting scheme and there is only the same fifteen or twenty drops of water tentatively leaping from the gutter edge to certain death in the bushes below. Except there is no death for them because they are running on a loop. Instant reincarnation. The rain can be described as falling only in the sense that it does appear to be coming down from up above. Really though it is almost floating, heavier and thicker but clearer than fog. There is only one moment and we are in it. Doing this, looping.
Two days later and now is the time to ask after one another. How was Thanksgiving? Ya’ll go ahead and do that amongst yourselves…all right, good. Did you eat too much this year? I ate a whole pie.
I am not positioned to see The Peak, which is the name of a specific part of the Shenandoah range, and can be seen if I stand up, walk ten feet, and look out the window to my left. In the other room is playing Double Nickles on the Dime, Minutemen, which I got turned onto by a hitchhiker I picked up in Utah 15 or 19 years ago. He was going to Oxnard, CA. or thereabouts and I was going nowhere. We speared rib eyes with sticks and cooked them over a campfire in the desert off the road a bit. The next evening we were outside Dodger Stadium and he was procuring tickets for us from a scalper. He could tell where the seats were just by glancing at the ticket so we weren’t taken advantage of by scalpers who might have imagined he and I had just fallen off the turnip truck. Not that they could see the truck I was driving but parts of the body were tied on with bailing wire.
I remember him telling me that Dodger Stadium was so clean you could snort coke off the bathroom floor and although I would never try that, and could not on this occasion because neither he nor I had any, the stadium was indeed a shining example of cleanliness.
After the game he suggested we drive down to Hunnington Beach for the next days’ national surfing competition, and so we did. It was late night or early morning when we arrived and we slept in the truck and got eaten by mosquitoes, parked on a residential street a few blocks from the beach. Mosquitoes are not a thing I generally think about when I think about California. In those days I traveled to and slept outside in California on several occasions. I only remember mosquitoes in Hunnington Beach. Once in San Simeon, sleeping on a construction site, I was awakened by construction workers at 6:30 a.m. and once in Santa Cruz young lovers snogging on the steps above where I was trying to sleep woke me up because the pitch of the male lover’s begging was similar to that whining pitch of the female mosquito. The whirring of a cheap circular saw might sound like a mosquito on acid but I didn’t wait around for that on the construction site. I gathered up my worldlies and crept off to the nearby road, where I was picked up by hippies in a station wagon offering windowpane. A year prior, in the tramp jungle near the train tracks in Yuma, Arizona, I was awakened by the groping hands of a hobo who was going for the buck knife I would never use but kept resolutely and foolishly strapped to my side anyway. He was unsuccessful because he mistook my mild grumbling as a near consciousness merely one step from him receiving my buck knife the hard way. He did not know how unlikely that was, which speaks well for the power of implication and/or near consciousness. Yuma, Arizona is not in California, obviously, so really doesn’t belong in this paragraph about mostly California but I was just thinking about it so here it is. I am not going to go on and on about it in such a fashion that would justify it having its own paragraph. Not that the tramp jungle in Yuma doesn’t deserve its own paragraph, it really does.
The thing about getting up early is…no, forget that. The thing about The Peak is…no, I’m a long way from being able to describe that because it requires so much compression of time/space and a vocabulary more specific to art. It was purple again this morning and the undulations were richly described by shadow. That’s the easiest one. How was it for you?
Later, on that same trip, I was in Winona, Minnesota and picked up my own copy of Double Nickles on the Dime. One last thing:
The day of the riot at my elementary school was, excluding the riot, much like any other day.
Full Moon Memories
Some cussing in this one.
Lorina was driving me and a mutual friend through tens of miles of late night fog to attend the ballet at a university in Virginia.
God bless Lorina for her social sensibilities and dedication to friends, even casual ones, for it is that sensibility and dedication that had us driving in zero visibility through winding mountain roads crossed frequently by deer and bear and sometimes cows. No kidding to Lorina, it is such effort that makes life richer, even as it increases the likelihood of troubling events.
It started out friendly enough at the mutual friend’s house, Kalvin, who stays with his parents and was once, at least in the hopeful eyes of Kalvin’s mother, a suitor of Lorina.
I try to be mature about these things on account of I have a relatively mature amount of years under my belt but at the same time I can feel Kalvin’s mother wishing I weren’t there. In all fairness to her, it had been my first inclination to decline this trip, but I’m trying to be less of a homebody and not make Lorina feel like getting me to do something social is an ordeal of teeth pulling magnitude. Even though Lorina has admitted that she likes pulling teeth.
So on the couch I tried to disappear into the college football game while we waited on Kalvin, who I think in the twenty minutes we waited was shotgunning possibly three or four more beers, on top of the case he had already drunk and not including the multiple shots of vodka he had tossed down earlier in the afternoon. Kalvin had started his first suit and tie job a month earlier and was limiting himself to one day of drinking a week. He was not a happy drunk but was loyal to the idea that it might ease his much held onto pain. He’d been at it for about four hours when we came to pick him up at five p.m.
Lorina was designated driver and was declining drink offers and expertly chatting up the parents while I tried to be ignored. I had some Haze in my pocket just in case the fog lifted. Many of the ballerinas would be beginners.
Kalvin’s parents gave me a delicious nut and dried fruit assortment to munch on the road, and we were off.
Kalvin and I had spent a little time together in the months preceding this trip. Once we had gone out together to hear Lorina’s punk band play at an area venue. We were turned away at the door because the club was full and neither one of us could see either one of us persisting with—“but we’re on the guest list.” Lorina was somewhat disappointed in both of us but if she is going to persist in befriending social retards then she will have to expect some of that.
Kalvin and I had both once lived in the same southern city and had some overlapping experiences that we felt bonded us. We knew things, we thought, that no one else knew. We knew poor kids who lived richly but depraved lives. Kids dropped onto the planet, onto the streets, with historical baggage imprinted with travel decals from all the wrong places. Kids so underprivileged that it seems wrong to cast all the blame their way when the some of them do wrong. At the same time we both agree that all persons must be accountable for their actions. And you can’t just cast a blanket of forgiveness over armed robbery, rape, and murder. It is a difficult thing to consider. I’m always trying to dumb it down for my own self, so that I can black and white an issue that has a thousand shades of grey. Here is a cliché that I like regarding all this. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. And as part of the problem your complaining and whining are little more than self-loathing and you should take that to the closet quietly, or to the office of a professional, or frankly, internet writing can be therapeutic. But don’t let me hear you because I have absolutely zero tolerance and only slightly more maturity than that so whereas quietness will be my first response to you it will not be my last. Even at the risk of sounding smug I will discount any thought that does not consider movement towards solution. I afford equal respect to those who just keep their fucking mouths shut.
To discuss the problems related to impoverished Americans, intellectually, is one thing, but to complain about it, or to cast blame or point fingers at the few but legitimately frightening wrong-doers and say, with the exact words or just by implication, that bad people should be done away with, should not exist, should just stop being bad, and that you resent your tax dollars going to benefit them, or some other infantile phrasing from the infantile mind, is inexcusable, ill-advised, or simply idiotic.
I have had something approaching close contact with the people who are trying to be part of the solution, and from these people I have heard harsh words which hold all fuckups accountable, regardless of their beginning station in life. From a person who might be camped at ground zero in the harshest of ghettoes, I respect this harsh sentiment. Because on that person’s floor on any given night of the year might be camped a sizeable number of this country’s forgotten youth: some of them being the people for whom we are building prisons because that is the fullest extent of our forward thinking on the issue of crime, and what to do about it. This person offers to high risk youth her own food and shelter, and school supplies, some clothing, occasional gifts, an incredible amount of her time, and does all this in her spare time, before, during, and after her two jobs. She helps many even as her so-called success rate might be deemed rather low.
I don’t think a person has to be that selfless, or to give that much of themselves, to be in the arena of problem solvers. Any effort is laudable.
I know of some of the bad shit that resides within Kalvin, but not all of it. I don’t why he was being so unrelentingly hateful towards large groups of fellow humans on this night, stating that most frightening opinion (but as fact) that these bad people in America were bad for the gene pool. I don’t know why I just gave up and started calling him a motherfucker and a neo-nazi, first in the car, then in the bar after the ballet.
We had been so deeply into it that Kalvin, in his rabid state of disgruntlement, had fallen down on the job of directing Lorina to the university and we were late and had to beg to pay for standing room seats because the room was sold out. We had just driven two hours, we cried. I said nothing about Kalvin’s ethnic cleansing ideas. I was really heated up, I apologize for that now. It was Lorina who said we had just driven two hours to support our young ballerina friend. Wanting to make up for my lack of effort at getting into her punk gig the month before I said, yeah, is there standing room available? The woman looked at me and said, who are you? I don’t particularly approve of that phrasing and wanted to shout back, I am a human being, who the fuck are you, bitch, but realizing that overcoming immaturity is a lifelong process, I just meekly said, uh, I’m uh, I’m with them. Even though that partly felt wrong, because for the past two hours in the car I had most adamantly not been with Kalvin on anything.
Standing near or leaning against the exercise bar for two hours in a poorly ventilated recital hall was uncomfortable. In addition, Kalvin said a bunch of negative and scary stuff to the young ballerina we had come to see; spoke, or sang, during performances; audibly tapped his feet on the floor or his hands on the exercise bar along to the beat of introduction music; made a callous comment regarding the young man with long hair who collapsed to the floor next to him; turned to me occasionally and said—you’re wrong, and finally, after being reprimanded several times by Lorina, just lurked by himself in the corner, going pale and trying not to fall out like the young man he had just criticized for falling out.
The young ballerina we had come to see was a joy to watch and for those few minutes of her performance all bad was washed from the planet.
Lorina asked me should we stay and give our regards to ballerina friend. I felt and expressed the adamant opinion that we should escort as quickly as possible our mutual friend, Kalvin, from the premises. One of the things I like about Lorina is that she does not resent me for occasionally being right, and even applauds me for it. She presented no argument against the faux pas of leaving without a word and we bolted for the exit two floors down.
We went to a bar for one drink and it was as Lorina promised a nice place. Kalvin sat down and asked me to clarify my position, interrupted me each time I started, prattled on about his superior experience with the subject matter (his one month association with troubled youth to my ten years worth), and generally underscored his belligerently drunken personality with one hateful idea after another. As to his assertion that I was wrong I am only too ready to accept that, about everything I know, except that the ethnic cleansing he was very close to proposing, is wrong. It was at the bar that I had to inquire didn’t he see the similarity between his ideas and that of the neo-nazi and shortly after that I just started calling him a motherfucker, repeatedly. As a person of German descent he really didn’t like the nazi reference and as someone who lives with his mother, I guess he took offense to me calling him a motherfucker as well.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been caught so off guard.
At the bar, Lorina had tried to express an idea similar to mine, against Kalvin’s, and since he had admitted to me in the men’s room at the university that he thought Lorina and I were ganging up on him, I interrupted Lorina and out the side of my mouth told her not to help me. I was banking on the high probability that I could explain that particular insult later. She went and sat next to a woman at the bar and tried successfully not to bum a cigarette. She left me with Kalvin and by the time she came back ten minutes later there was very little coming from my mouth that wasn’t profanity. When she cheerfully asked would we like to get another drink I said, quickly and adamantly, no, let’s get the fuck out of here. She seemed to immediately forgive me that bit of rudeness too. I am not so needful or desirous of friends that I will be missing this one but I still feel bad about it. All of it. His ideas, my responses, his reasoning, my lack of understanding.
On the way home I was finally able to bow out as Lorina took over with calm and reasonable responses to Kalvin’s insane interpretations. Sometime during that he had changed subjects, away from ethnic cleansing to world politics, to mollify Lorina, and began talking about one of this country’s sworn enemies. He used an epithet which I honestly didn’t hear but which Lorina scolded him for and later told me was sand nigger. I was listening when shortly after that he verified the part of my nationality which accounts for half of my blood and I said, yes, that’s correct. It took me until the next morning to realize the epithet had been for my benefit but no real harm done on that one since I had literally called him a motherfucker perhaps a hundred times that night.
Finally, after being calm and reasonable an unreasonable amount of time, six hours into the evening, Lorina said, can we just not talk anymore? Can you only talk if you give me one pleasant thought to end this night? Kalvin truly couldn’t and shut up. Right before we dropped him off he was able to pull out one of his stock memories--driving at night with lights off on a thin ribbon of black asphalt through a bucolic, snow-covered Virginia, under the full
Mike, The One Mockingbird
You can only wonder is it the rumored conviviality of its occupants that brought about the events of this morning.
It is something I wonder about. Is there more than one mockingbird? Everywhere I go I keep seeing the same one.
Last night, nodding off, the rabid fox, which I haven’t until now mentioned, made demented, near death fox noises, in the woods outside my window.
I don’t know if you can hear it from where you are but there is a light tapping on the bay window by the kitchen table in the other room. It is loud enough to hear over Townes Van Zandt, who is singing a ballad about not being loved.
I know you’re going to tell me that birds sometimes fly into windows by accident and it is my responsibility as someone who purports to be sensitive to hang streamers in front of it or some other visual marker so the birds won’t be tempted to fly into my kitchen.
I don’t think you understand Mike, the one mockingbird.
This isn’t the original paragraph that goes here, that one got eaten by the ibm thinkpad, which, similar to Mike, crashes, but not into windows, into itself, unless you want me to mean Windows, which probably is the culprit. Now the whole window concept is sort of tainted for me. I don’t feel good about it. But also, you ain’t missing nothing from that original paragraph, except the one allusion to Rudyard Kipling and one tired Heavy Hummingbird alliteration/metaphor.
I can still hear him though, Mike, in the other room, now tapping along to Willie Nelson singing Rainbow Connection, which I think is a cover of that Kermit the Frog song.
I cut some cask strength bourbon in half with water and offered it to Lorina so she would have something to drink while watching Fog of War, which I think is the most chilling anti-war statement ever made and also lends perspective to current events in the sense that what this country has survived just in the last sixty years is pretty remarkable when you are able to realize it through the lens of a condensed timeline. I mean if we can survive WWII and later a team consisting of McNamara, Johnson, and LeMay and not too long later survive a Nixon/Kissinger clusterfuck, and then 8 years of Reagan, well, we should be able to survive whatever comes, except, you know, the end (and here I would like for all you fundamental Christians to at least consider the possibility that your near salivating in anticipation of an Armageddon every time—and only when—the US is involved in some world conflict near the middle east, is sort of creepy, and perhaps indicative of mental illness, which is treatable. I am not speaking to the entirety of your value system as represented by the words of JesusChrist, which for the most part I aspire to myself).
What history shows is a balance of insanity and reason. Speaking of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the voices of reason that ultimately prevailed, Lorina expressed her fear of this current administration being faced with a crisis of similar magnitude. I got pretty good cred for wallowing in lakes of futility but I am breathing clean air with my head bobbing above that these days. I have tricked myself, I have told myself and believed me, that wallowing like that is a colossal waste of time and forgive me but I usually have to punctuate the sentiment with—you punkass crybaby bitch. Anyway, and also, I tend to feel the need to look contrary to popular opinion, regardless of the opinion, and why imagine a desolate future when there is so much of it you can experience in the here and now, if that is your cup of tea. So I said to Lorina—we can’t know for sure that such a crisis would be handled poorly by this current administration. Even though they may be lame ducks, there are voices of reason within the administration. I offered the obvious. I said we still have Colin Powell.
Lorina is a talented musician and spends time each week with talented musicians so she has a sense of timing and beat that overlaps into her everyday living. You don’t really know that a pause is pregnant until later but that’s what it was, that quiet space between me saying we have Colin Powell and her saying, oh, he resigned today. Well then, good thing Castro has been marginalized.
Lorina's ex-husband plays with plastic sharks in public pretty near, in proximity, the place where Lorina performs one of her seven jobs. I'll come into the public place and nod at him and he'll, taking a break from the positioning of plastic sharks, nod back.
I would not say there is a growing lack of amity between us, yet, now that the words are out here, let's at least suggest that there is. There's only about 500 people you would have to know around here to say that you literally knew everyone so it is probably counterproductive to make snap judgements, or quick enemies.
Lorina's ex-husband goes by the name Spencer, although Lorina says the name on his birth certificate is Morton. I pondered the why-fore of such a thing until finally, coming up with nothing, I asked Lorina. I said, "If his name is Morton why doesn't he go by Morton, or Mort, or Mortie." Lorina nodded sadly, but with the crease of a smile on her red lips, and I, sure that I had asked a stupid question searched my database of limited knowledge for the obvious answer before she could give it to me. I did not want to seem too dense on the subject of why a person would change names. But Lorina, who was only midway through the one act play comprised entirely of facial expressions, entitled, Why Morton Calls Himself Spencer, simply raised her eyebrows, blinked her eyes (first concurrently one with the other and then sequentially), scrunched up her nose, puckered her lips, sucked in her cheeks and finishing with an impressive neck roll and a punctuating cluck of the tongue, said, "I really don't know."
So for now some things will remain mysterious. There are questions that will remain unanswered.
I was at a basketball game yesterday at the MCI Center in DC. There was a miniature but fully operational blimp floating around the stadium doing, to my knowledge, the only thing blimps are capable of doing, other than floating and steering, and that is advertising a product. The product was, nah, uh uh, psyche.
They now play over the sound system abbreviated arrangements of popular hip-hop and rap tunes throughout the game, instead of just at the breaks.
Right before the game began fireworks shot up from hidden cannons mounted on top of the goals. The smoke did not rapidly dissipate. About twenty minutes into the game the person sitting to my left, obviously so distracted by the ongoing spectacle of the modern day professional sporting event, and having forgotten about the fireworks said, "Is it smoky in here?" This guy, the guy seated to my left, is someone who, like me, is old enough to accept unpleasant possibilities as explanation for anything that may occur in life. Completely forgetting the fireworks he must have been accepting the possibility that life for him was going grey. I do not know if my answer was enough to pep him up from the potentially unpleasant reality he was facing, going blind in the middle of a professional sporting event, but he did, like me, upon receiving my answer that it was indeed smoky, fireworks be blamed, wonder just what the hell are they doing shooting fireworks in an indoor stadium. The fireworks did not even spell out the name of a product.
It was kids' day at the stadium and I got a portable basketball hoop and ball to enjoy in the comfort of my own home.
Do not get me wrong. I love the spectacle of professional sports. Even though I would fire whoever is the chief in charge of courtside priorities. I would replace those two pimply teenagers who get to sit practically under the goal so they can wipe up from the floor the leaking bodily fluids of professional athletes, with the entire cheerleading squad, who have somehow been most ridiculously delegated to the outer wings of the stadium. I would of course justify this change in terms of dollars and cents and not by the implied whim of some antiquated sexist mind-set. You know what I'm saying? Butt cheek product placement.
There was a baby race, an air guitar contest, a best smile contest, a kiss your girlfriend contest, a little kids slam dunk contest, a shoot around the world contest, an entire elementary school amount of kids singing the national anthem (off key), and of course the obligatory cute and quirky mascot. The cheerleaders had the floor for a while as did a dance team. There was a guy dressed up like a superhero who with the aide of a trampoline and landing mat executed some high-flying slam dunks, one with a full flip included. The same guy later shot t-shirts into the upper decks from a strap on device looking like a flame-thrower but which was instead a type of bazooka.
A tall guy from one team attempting to score against the tall guy from the other team became entangled with his competitor but scored anyway and to punctuate his prowess under the basket, after landing, spanked his opponent on the ass. His opponent became angry, but nobody cared, or paid him any attention, so he just went about looking confused and sullen for a few more minutes, before being taken out of the game for a rest, or to apply salve to his sore ass.
There is a huge TV screen hanging from the rafters in case somewhere in the middle of the game you realize you would rather be at home.
A guy came right up to my seat offering beer and peanuts but I figured there was probably a catch to it so I declined his offer.
A famous tall person looking slightly ill at ease in his clothing was projected onto the big screen and after seeing him on TV people nearby wanted his autograph even if they had no idea who he was. The famous tall person took more than a little time with each autograph, as if he had suddenly realized this was the time to begin that novel he had always wanted to write. He would write and concentrate and write some more. He would then look up and see the little kid who had given him the paper or ball to write on and he would smile apologetically and say a few words of explanation as to why these particular autographs might seem more like novellas. None of the children complained about this.
Penultimate does not mean what you think it does. If you think it means top of the heap you got another think coming. If someone told you it means top of the heap that person was at best making a common mistake and at worst telling you a bold-faced or bald-faced lie. You can’t slink around life with bad information. You run the risk of waking up one morning and having your life tossed asunder by one vocabulary word. Committee, referring, occurring, recommend, are words that no word processor will let you misspell so you can skate by comfortably ignorant as a bad speller. But what if someone said you were the penultimate member of a group and for twenty years you had thought they meant you were the best when in fact, whether they meant it or not, what they were saying is that you are, as pertains to your grouping, next to last. Next to last? Is that using a horizontal scale of measuring where next to last would be located almost to the far right and be by implication a better thing than next to last on a vertical scale which would implicate you near the bottom? What kind of word is so careless about its meaning and what are you going to do about this? If you were the suspicious type you might start with any number of bone-headed assumptions and move on from there. For example, perhaps twenty years ago penultimate meant best of best but shortly after that the word was co-opted by a radical group consisting of linguists, librarians and dictionarians, who in numerous acts of cunning malfeasance drugged everyone in America while they went about changing the typeset or digital equivalent of all dictionary publishers in the world while at the same time they gathered up and threw out all volumes of written material which would show the word to be in any way complimentary to me. Is that too farfetched? How many misunderstood words would a person have to have under their belt to be totally wrong about everything?