I call my daughter, Ivy, to discuss how she can be of assistance once my atoms scatter.
“You’re leaving me with four- to five-hundred paintings and drawings when you die, so I refuse to deal with anything else, “she says. “You’re not unloading anything more on me. I’m going to have to rent storage space and move everything, so that’s all I’m willing to do. What a pain in the ass.”
Ivy is in a foul mood; she was driving home during a recent storm, collided with a UPS truck on a blind corner, and destroyed the left front end of her Porsche Cayenne. Her Porsche Cayenne was her entrée to an other-than-bohemian lifestyle. Or, at least, to the pretense.
“Fucking UPS truck. Those fucking delivery drivers are stressed out, always on the clock; they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. And the fucking county plow left just a nine-foot-wide path around the fucking corner. Fucking plow drivers, they’re all fucking idiots. I went to high school with a lot of those fuckers and they can’t spell ‘plow.’ I’ve eaten broccoli that’s smarter than those morons.”
She obtained a rental vehicle, a Dodge Ram, the cost for which is sure to push her future insurance payments through the roof, and now the truck’s stuck in her driveway.
“Fucking cheap tires on that fucking cheap rental truck, and all that fucking snow and slush in my fucking driveway. I’m fucking tired of living like a fucking pioneer woman.”
The snowblower she used in a failed attempt to free the truck is also stuck in the driveway.
“Fucking rat’s ass, cheap bullshit Japanese snowblower. Fuck.”
She picked up a virus from one or both of her sons; her nose is running, she’s coughing, she has a headache, her body hurts, she is half out of it.
“Nasty little fuckers. They’re like fucking Petri dishes, bringing every fucking disease in the fucking world home. They put their hands on everything and everyone at that fucking elementary school. Fuck!”
She’s clearly irritated, but I have an agenda and I press on.
I remind her I called in order to focus on my impending death, to line out some pertinent details. I inform her that I will likely die in my sleep.
“If you fucking die in your sleep,” she says, “who the hell is going to get you presentable for the fucking ambulance crew and the ghouls from the crematorium?”
My response: “What do I care? I’ll be dead. And when I am, I won’t have to listen to you use a word so often that it loses all meaning. I’m pretty sure I gave you and your sister the ‘Obscenities have power only when used judiciously, at the right times, in the right circumstances,’ speech when you were kids. Didn’t it take?”
“No,” she replies, “it didn’t fucking take. What I mean is, since you sleep naked, someone will have to try to put underwear on you before people arrive to cart you off to an autopsy or the oven. I’m sure not going to do it. I’ve got all those fucking paintings to worry about.”
I respond. “What do I care? I’ll be dead. To paraphrase Epicurus: What you remember of that which preceded your birth is what you’ll experience once you’re dead. Or something like that.”
Her response. “I hear if a corpse remains on the death bed for a while, whatever is inside it makes for the exits, pollutes the vicinity.”
“I believe that’s true in some cases; pre-Rig Mo, things can seep.”
“You shit and piss yourself.”
“Not really, you need muscles to accomplish a world-class bowel movement. When you die, you lose all muscle power; your sphincters relax, and you merely leak. You experience none of the satisfaction you felt dropping a load when you were alive.
“One of life’s truly great treats, Dad. The joy accompanying a good ride on the porcelain is reason alone for upping your daily, dietary fiber intake.”
“Indeed,” I reply. “But, I suppose if you wolf down a hefty meal shortly before going to bed, there’s a chance things can get truly nasty if you die while you sleep. Mattress burning time, if you know what I mean. If your survivors can’t set the mattress on fire because of property owner association regulations or city ordinances, and the landfill won’t take it, they need to make a run and leave it in someone’s yard. Preferably a fascist’s yard. Or maybe leave it in the foyer at the Happy Church, during Praise Band practice.”
“I’m not taking care of this,” she says. “And, since Mom will probably be a feeb by the time you kick off, she won’t be able to hose you down and slip underwear on your corpse before the coroner arrives. She’ll be crouched in a corner of a room, petting an imaginary Labrador retriever; she won’t even know you’re dead. From that day on, she’ll think you’re at the grocery store buying Graham crackers and a bar of her favorite dark chocolate.”
Ivy has a plan. She ceases dropping the F bomb, and begins to think strategically. She’s solid, once her rage subsides.
“You need to prepare for this situation. Go to Wal-Mart tomorrow, as much as you hate the place,” she says, “and purchase some supplies.”
“Yep. You need to buy at least a hundred adult diapers. If they’re on sale, get a couple hundred more, just in case you outlive expectations. You need to start wearing a diaper when you go to bed at night. That way, minimal mess. Keep a few fresh ones next to the bed, just in case you sneeze unexpectedly, and blow a surprise during the night. Old folks are known to do that.”
“This makes a lot of sense.” I say. “You know, I’m starting to remind myself of your great-grandmother, Minnie. She was dignified, and one of the most accomplished people you’d ever want to meet, a paragon of decorum and control. Of course, that’s not the way in which I’m beginning to resemble her. Rather, when she got old, real old, she’d be toddling along, or sitting in her favorite chair sipping a Manhattan and listening to a recording of Renata Tebaldi singing the role of Violetta in La Traviata, and she’d let loose a string of farts, a few of them undoubtedly wet. Loss of control in the nether region, you know? That’s the resemblance. I’m starting to emit gas without warning, so I’m pretty sure that I’m going to crap my drawers in public one day soon. Probably at a restaurant. It seems inevitable.”
“Well, for sure you’re cruising for an accident some night when you’re in bed. You need to put a baby diaper pail next to the bed for easy disposal. They’ve got those at Wal-Mart, but I bet you can find a used one at a thrift store if you’re short on funds.”
“Check. I’m always short of funds. Plenty of paintings, non-existent cash.”
“And get a tube of wet wipes to keep on the nightstand. A guy your age, in your condition, needs as many wet wipes as he can get. You ought to take a bunch with you in a Ziploc bag whenever you leave the house. Plus, the mortuary zombies will be happy the wipes are handy when they cart your corpse off in that van they use. God, I bet that van smells bad.”
“Excellent observation. Well, it’s been swell talking with you, Sweetie, as always, but I suppose you need to put on your snowsuit and your mittens, and start shoveling out the snowblower and the truck. I’ll be thinking of you as I down a cocktail or three while I sit next to the heat vent, farting, and thinking about dying.”
She signs off. “Fuck you.”
Despite her ugly mood and demeanor, Ivy makes a point: I am, as many have said, so many times, completely full of shit. I must do some planning in order to avert a post-mortem sanitation crisis. There’s sure to be a disaster if I don’t take precautions, because if I die in my sleep, while in bed, I will not be found until the next day.
Because Kathy and I (especially me) are old and, in order to get what mimics a decent night’s sleep, we’ve been forced to take to different bedrooms on most nights. Many older couples have done the same, but are reluctant to admit it, no doubt hoping their peers will assume they remain cuddly, and feverishly conjoined on a regular schedule. This, of course is nonsense in most instances — get past 70 years old and screwing each other’s brains out (not the idea, but the reality) is not regularly on the radar. In many instances, the radar was switched off long ago.
So, I will die alone, the result of several obstacles in the way of peaceful, tandem slumber and an early discovery of the stiff.
Obstacle 1: the mattress Kathy purchased for the bed in the master bedroom is as taut as the top head on a classic Slingerland snare drum. Any motion vibrates through the entire mattress, like a tsunami moving out from the epicenter of an earthquake. Kathy is an active sleeper. By this, I mean she bounces when she sleeps. She doesn’t turn over gently; she hurls herself over, rising in the air and crashing down on the mattress. She bounces, and when she bounces, anything and anyone on the mattress with her bounces as well. It’s like a trampoline act in a low-grade Mexican circus.
Obstacle 2: noise. Kathy and I both wake when we hear a noise. Or, at least we used to. I took to wearing earplugs several years ago (pre dual bed strategy), after Kathy decided to start snoring.
“Oh, Karl,” I hear some say, “she didn’t decide to start snoring. You don’t choose to snore.”
The plugs work for me but, for her, there is no remedy. Kathy has the hearing of a bat; a mosquito buzzes in a distant room in the middle of the night, she wakes in a panic and shouts out the alarm, as if an intruder has busted through the front door of the house and is making his way through the house to slaughter the owners, their pets, and their plants.
I have my part to play: not long after Kathy decided to snore, I began to suffer allergic reactions to dust mites, pollen, medications, Kathy, whatever, and I started snorting and sniffing and coughing once I took to the bed. Unlike Kathy with her snoring, I did not choose to snort, sniff, and cough; I am a helpless victim of noxious environmental and/or pharmaceutical insults.
The result: “God, Karl, will you shut up? I’ll never get back to sleep now. You’ve ruined everything.”
“Yes, absolutely everything. You ruin everything.”
Obstacle 3: temperature.
Me: “It’s incredibly hot in here. I’m sweating like a stuck pig.”
Kathy: “I’m cold. I need another blanket. You’re hot because you’re fat and covered with hair. If you’d do what I tell you, and start with that keto diet and the Bikram yoga weight loss program, you wouldn’t feel like this. I’ll never get back to sleep now. You ruin everything.”
Obstacle 4: blankets.
“Quit pulling the blanket off me.”
“I’m not pulling it, you’re pulling it.”
“No, it’s you.”
“Now I’ll never get back to sleep. You ruin everything.”
Obstacle 5: pre-sleep ritual.
“Turn the light off, I need to go to sleep, I need my rest. I’m taking an online Latin jazz piano class tomorrow morning. I wan to learn some Sergio Mendes classics for the piano bar routine I’m working on.”
“I’m not tired, and there isn’t a piano bar within two-hundred miles of here. I’m going to read for a while.”
“Turn the light off.”
“No, I’m reading. I’m not tired.”
“I’ll never get to sleep now. You ruin everything.”
There’s more, with contributions from each of the love birds: groaning (me), leg cramps (me), unprovoked whimpering (me), complaints about dead skin on the sheets and greasy pillowcases (her and mine), screams provoked by nightmares featuring politicians and pit bulls (her), but there’s no need for me to elaborate further, the picture is well drawn.
The upshot: I sleep in the guest room. I close off the heat vents without an argument; I snort, sniff, and outgas however much and whenever I want; Kathy does her tumbling routine and shouts at mosquitoes; we each read or don’t read, as we wish; I will die in my sleep during the night; since I sleep on my stomach, livor mortis will mar my average looks, and I am likely to have a bit of an erection due to the influence of gravity on blood freed from the tyranny of the heart — probably the best hard-on I’ve had in years; material and liquids will vacate my bowels and bladder before I am discovered the next morning.
I must make plans.
As I compose a list of items to purchase at Wal-Mart, I realize there are other things I should attend to, before I soil myself as I cross the finish line in the dark. There’s stuff I don’t want left behind.
Not that I’ll be embarrassed, since I’ll be dead, but I need to spruce up my “remember Karl” image in the event there’s a memorial service. If I fail to discard certain things prior to my demise, people might think less of me than they already do (though, in many cases, this would be impossible).
There are artifacts that must be destroyed before I am blown away by Montaigne’s “wind of circumstance.” Most of the artifacts are kept in boxes; most of the boxes are in the garage. I haven’t seen the junk in decades, and now it has to go.
Several of the boxes I need to empty are stored on a high shelf in the garage. I will have to use a ladder to reach them. I imagine myself crapping my pants as I climb the steps of the ladder. I’ll go to Wal-Mart before I undertake the artifact project.
I won’t list the items to be destroyed or dumped. It is enough to know I was once Alvin “Call me Al” DeTerio, the editor of a notorious ‘70s sleazoid publication, as well as its staff writers: Merle Box, Renata Santini, and Carla Fursburg. My partner, Jim, and I prowled some dicey turf, and I collected souvenirs that need to disappear. Quite a bit of the evidence includes photos with Dutch or Swedish captions.
Some things ought never to be kept. If kept, they ought not remain so for long.
With a scheme developed to smash, melt, or shred artifacts, some left intact and bagged (the soft-core stuff), I review who might perform the mop-up after I die, should I forget to diaper up. If I can choose anyone to undertake the noxious task, who might it be, since Kathy will be petting an imaginary dog?
The answers arrive quickly.
For years, as a newspaper writer, columnist, and editor in Siberia With a View, I suffered the nonsense spewed by a group of aggressive and sub-literate assholes who deem themselves, depending on the company they keep, as “the County Guard,” “the County Militia,” “Warriors of the Constitution,” “Patriots of The Next American Revolution.”
These hammerheads are rabid and unrelenting as they stumble blindly through the confusing maze they call “life.” They get their ideas from frayed John Birch Society pamphlets, You Tube videos of McCarthy hearings, Alex Jones, Mel Gibson movies, and white nationalist Internet sites. They adore the Constitution, though few are able to read it, and for a long time the core group circulated an audio book featuring an impassioned reading of the sacred document, until one of the bozos destroyed the cassette while waving a replica of Stonewall Jackson’s sword. Were they but slightly less intelligent, we would need to build human-size pet cages (exercise wheels and water bottles included) in order to house these churls at a site near the fairgrounds. They are examples of a political/cultural Epstein-Barre virus — each of them a host-hungry parasite wrapped in protein. The parasite latches on to widely valued concepts (freedom of speech, voter rights, the 2nd Amendment, universal support of shared amenities and resources) and transforms them (the evil of taxation, the unconstitutional existence of the federal government and it’s outlaw agencies, the pending mass incarceration and murder of freedom loving patriots by a Zionist aggressor army, the need for the county to secede from the Union, One-World Government, etc.), in order to provide the nutrients needed to animate itself. The virus grows and mutates; what was once a shriveled, near-dead presence lurking in a desiccated shell creeps out to locate and invade new hosts, and reproduce. The process usually occurs in subdivisions in unincorporated areas that lack covenants and controls, and any form of road maintenance.
As you can probably tell: I am not fond of these goofs.
When I quit the newspaper biz, one of these camo-clad trolls attended a party held at the newspaper offices, strolled up to me, a drooling grin plastered on his pinched mug and, in a display of Neanderthal bravado, dropped an open buck knife at my feet.
I kicked it under a nearby table, and he got down on hands and knees to retrieve his icon. His camo jacket and shirt rode up as he reached beneath the table, revealing an image of a bald eagle with an American flag clenched in its talons clumsily tattooed at the small of his back (no doubt a practice run made by a fellow militia member who took tattoo and taxidermy correspondence courses). I spotted the goof scurrying around the supermarket the other day. He’s now packing heat: a Glock in a holster on his hip, where those who would oppose him and ignore the truth can see it and tremble in the presence of his power.
He and his fellow boobs can shovel my shit while they plot the revolution.
Or, perhaps, it could be one or more of the gaggle of pneumata comprising the local Republican Central Committee— ill-built creatures using participation in a morally and intellectually bankrupt organization to seek completion, hunkering down at meetings desperate for enervation, exchanging shopworn clichés in rooms reeking of ammonia and gum disease, fighting in vain against their transition from elderly to ancient to dead, their ignorance and fear deepening as they watch hour after hour of Fox News.
As you can probably tell: I am not fond of them.
But, they are probably the best candidates for the job, since most of these old flops are acquainted with the leakage problem by now, and have honed their skills swabbing liquid poop off a plastic mattress pad while warbling about the socialist menace and wondering if their Social Security checks have been deposited in their bank accounts. I’ll leave a framed photo of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on my nightstand, where they’ll be sure to see it. I’ll Photoshop an image of Sean Hannity next to that of Alexandria, the cretin embracing her warmly and giving her a smooch on the cheek. This’ll drive the clean-up coots over the edge.
I have plenty of work to do now because, like the pneumata, I am on the cusp of elderly, ancient and dead.
I’ll be ready. If my Social Security check has been deposited in my bank account, I will possess more adult diapers than anyone in the neighborhood.
Ivy needs to get to work on those paintings, ASAP. When I go to Wal-Mart to purchase my diapers, I’ll pick up a heavy-duty paper shredder, then set to work in the garage.
I think I’ll call Kathy’s imaginary Labrador retriever “Donald.”
Tonight could be the night.