It’s a matter of velocity, clutter, and yogurt. With apologies to William W: Disconnected snippets recollected in a less than tranquil state.
Quarantine got you down? Changed anything about your life?
As a spiky virus infiltrates the community, with quarantine for oldsters the norm, it’s certainly not business as usual for me, here in Siberia With a View.
I no longer go to breakfast with my dissolute pals on Wednesday mornings, I get few if any visits from my grandsons, and an evening at a restaurant is out of the question. Extended isolation has transformed me from a watered-down stoic to an apathetic skeptic. Where once I half-heartedly reined in errant thoughts and emotions, I now surf an erratic wave of doubt.
I’ve failed, however, to reach Cartesian ground zero, doubting everything but the fact I am doubting, prepping myself for an intellectual Uber ride to a dualistic scheme reasonable and clear. My methodical journey grinds to a halt when I realize I can’t doubt that I love cheeses of all kinds, in particular unpasteurized cheeses, as well as a wide variety of pasta dishes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, sausages, and Les Palliéres Gigondas “Terrasse du Diable.” Methodical vigor wanes, no clarity arrives, but plenty of things remain on which to focus my skeptic’s lens if I feel the urge.
Especially since a big part of my daily routine involves a trip to the Internet first thing in the morning.
I plunge into the online pit where my consciousness is remodeled by replays of late night television program segments, clips from Netflix specials featuring lesbian comedians, and videos showing female pilots flying giant commercial airliners. My already limited attention span has been reduced to less than two minutes by YouTube, oafish political commentaries, visits to the New York Times website, Tik Tok cooking lessons, Sean Hannity, memes, GIFs, amateur porn filmed in battered doublewides and cheesy suburban bedrooms. Each day, the dissociation is amplified.
I notice a trend as I flit like a crazed, suspicious bug across the surface of the digital chamber pot: quite a few members of the B.A. in Literature crowd make references to Boccaccio and The Decameron. Most of these brainiacs have not read The Decameron, certainly not in the original Florentine Italian, but they’ve heard it comprises tales told during a quarantine, so it lends them an air of learned sophistication when they mention the classic.
I read part of The Decameron when I was an undergrad — perhaps eight of the 100 tales, not in the original Florentine Italian, before I got too whacked to continue. I entertained enough of the work to know Boccaccio created a brigata of ten friends cloistered in a villa to escape the plague who, over the course of ten days, tell stories often related to lust and love.
I’m no Boccaccio, but I am a member of a digital brigata. In this case, I’ll be the only one telling the “stories,” all related to a disordered existence.
Entries are presented in a form that reflects a mind unhinged in isolation (a widely shared condition) and that mimics the structure of Boccaccio’s book.
I’ll produce an entry per day, as per Boccaccio’s schedule, with no story told on one day during a period of 12 days (that day set aside for work, in my case collecting the trash, putting it in a rolling container, and taking the container to its place at the end of the driveway where bears can tip it over and scatter the contents) and none told on a second day, the sabbath, that day spent in calm reflection, doubt dampened. By vodka, wine, and an incredibly strong THC tincture, as need be.
Here it is.
I doubt you’ll read it.
The Hafwit’s Decameron: August, 2020.
A gang of kids is raising a commotion in the yard of the house across the road, the diminutive fuckwits yelling and crying, shrieking, running wild, having their fun at my expense.
I’m trying to listen to Mozart string quartets and write — writing being one of two things I know how to do.
There must be a way to exterminate these runts and dispose of their remains before parents and grandparents realize the irritating tykes are missing. The county landfill charges two bucks for the deposit of a load of bags, and attendants never check the contents of the bags. The guys at the site are too busy reading Fox News flashes on their cell phones, listening to Alex Jones, and yelling about black people, Nancy Pelosi, Antifa, and Benghazi.
I have befriended a gaggle of teen skateboarders here in the neighborhood by giving them a valuable set of full-color glossy photo essays featuring Dutch farm girls and companionable livestock, purchased by my brother in Amsterdam in 1974 and sent to me as a gift, the intriguing and unsettling documents still in the original plastic sleeves. The lads love me, and might be willing to commit murder once they are sufficiently high on cheap weed and solvent fumes. Say, by 10 a.m.
The disposal of obnoxious, overindulged children brimming with undeserved self esteem could rid our society of many problems, present and future.
The noise increases.
The bozos who own the house across the road maintain a principal residence in another state and have the cash needed to purchase a vacation home here. They visit whenever the whim strikes, when the oppressive heat and humidity on their home turf twangs their nerves and pops the AC circuit at the primary palace. Or, as in this case, when they imagine they’ll avoid a plague by fleeing to the mountains of Colorado, to Siberia With a View. To the house across the road from mine.
The owners have several offspring and each produced several kids in their turn. The clan is here for a reunion. The entire clan — an intrusive brigata, with no interesting stories to share.
The despicable fledglings are “cute as a button” according to their grandma. Every time a button shrieks, each time a button yelps, it pushes me closer to the breaking point. I’m told that I’m not a lot of fun once I break. I do awful things.
If this were a matter of a barking dog or two, I would employ my friend Mike’s method for dealing with unruly curs. Mike was raised out where cattle roam the range. As the youngest of a cattleman’s three sons, Mike was given the task of ridding that range of feral or no longer useful canines.
“Fill a hub cap or two with antifreeze,” he says as we sit on his deck and drink bourbon from Big Gulp cups. He nurses a half cup of Buffalo Trace, limiting his intake due to the triple bypass heart surgery he underwent two weeks before. He assures me he is feeling “pretty chipper,” and should be back to a full cup or more in a matter of days.
“The antifreeze is sweet and the damned dogs can’t resist it,” says Mike, as he sucks Kentucky spiritus frumenti through a straw. “If you can’t sneak a hub cap near the dogs, soak a bunch of ground meat in antifreeze, make some big meat balls and lob ‘em near the pack. That’ll take care of the problem, pronto.”
I wonder if the kids across the road will eat a meatball should they find one in the yard. They seem to be simpletons, so it’s a possibility. When I was a youngster, I would have avoided a meatball, but an antifreeze-saturated batch of macaroni and cheese would have proved my undoing.
I’m teetering at the front edge of Month 6 of the Great Quarantine; a full half year of life spent in seclusion in the offing.
Six months is not much of a loss if you are one of those rat-ass young ‘uns screaming in the yard beyond my window. These teeny dickwads have no sense of time passing, their daily lives crammed with landmark experiences; they’re fueled by high fructose corn syrup and burning time (noisily) without a care.
Loss of a half year of regular activity is a big deal if you are 74, with few landmark experience available, time flying by at an alarming speed, and flying faster each day. Speed is a concern.
I ponder the situation, try to get a grip on some meaning.
I’m a writer.
I need an analogy.
Here it is.
Momentum. Brakes fail. An unwanted event is imminent.
You grow up in Chicago and work there for a couple of years after you finish high school — first manning a shift at the paint store, then working for a carpet cleaning service, finally laboring as a member of the overnight stocking crew at a FoodSmart.
You have yet to discover your “passion and calling,” as liberal arts students and New Age visionaries like to call it.
The routine is getting you down when a buddy on the stocking crew tells you he’s making a break: he’s enrolling at a truck driving school and he’s going to get out of Chicago, hit the open road as an OTR trucker, make big bucks, move to Arizona, live the good life, buy a place with an above-ground pool in the back yard, maybe in Tucson, perhaps in Mesa. He shows you online ads — from the school, from realtors in Tucson and Mesa.
He piques your interest. Touches a nerve. Turns on a light. Pick a cliché, any cliché.
The next day you accompany him to the school, sign up for classes, do your hands-on training at a facility in Ridgeview, pass the CDC test on your second attempt. First time around you’ve been tweaking for a week, and things don’t go well; second time, you get a good night’s sleep before the test, and you don’t fire up due to the fact you ran out of money several days before the test date, and no one will front you a bump.
There it is, thanks to your hard work and the absence of ice: a license, a new lease on life, the change you’ve waited for. A bright future beckons. You’re ready to pursue your passion and calling.
You get a job with a small Chicago company, hauling dry and clean freight; you work overtime, earn cred with miles. You rent a one-bedroom apartment in Lombard. The complex has a common area with a shared and rarely cleaned propane barbecue, a fire pit, and a seldom sanitized hot tub. You hook up with a woman who waits tables at Applebee’s. She’s several years older than you, and recently divorced. The two of you bang each other’s brains out for a couple of weeks, and she moves in. Because you love her with an intensity hitherto unknown, you give her money for a tattoo and a couple piercings — a stud in her left nipple provokes an infection and requires an expensive course of antibiotics, on your tab. The relationship lasts eight months. When she leaves, she takes the microwave, the 60-inch Samsung, and the IKEA entertainment center with three missing screws. She absconds with your cat, Barney. Her brother threatens you, claiming you soiled his sister’s sterling reputation. He’s arrested on a warrant for armed robbery before he has a chance to hurt you.
Despite the setback, the overall picture improves.
You sign on as a company driver making runs in Peterbuilts within a 200-mile radius of Indianapolis. You relocate. The money is better, the air clear in this part of Indiana. It’s not Gary, after all.
Then, a major development, things are really looking up: you hitch on to a national outfit with a Butterball contract, pilot a company Kenworth, tug reefers, deliver frozen turkeys from a plant in Ozark, Arkansas.
You are pretty damned happy, all is sparkly; you relocate to Ozark and rent a one-bedroom with an alcove for a washer and dryer. The complex has a fire pit in the courtyard. A big fire pit. BYOW.
You connect with a bartender who works at a “gastropub” located a few blocks away. The first time you get together, she’s wearing a Megadeath T-shirt, she calls you “baby,” and you fall hard. The two of you bang each other’s brains out for a couple weeks, and she moves in. She’s several years older than you, and recently divorced; she organizes the kitchen cabinets, convinces you to buy a front-loading washer/dryer combo, and a used Camry. She gets title to the car, and assigns you laundry duty. You are determined that it’s going to work this go-round. You adopt a cat from the Humane Society shelter. You name the cat “Barney.”
Your new love quits her job, hooks up with an essential oils and aromatherapy pyramid scheme, and spends hours each day on the phone, hustling friends and relatives. She sets up an ancestry.com account to identify distant cousins. The apartment smells great. You befriend other residents at the complex and the crew gets together for a wienie roast and lager fest at the fire pit every Sunday. Since you’re the only one in the complex with a full-time job, you buy the wood. And the lager.
You make runs to Indiana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska.
Things are fucking wonderful!
Then, you get a bigger ticket, with part of the load destined for a warehouse in Colorado Springs, the rest of the birds to be hauled west, some to Durango, Colorado, the rest to Flagstaff, Arizona.
The gig is another step up on your way to the top of the heap, truckerwise. The managers trust you; a reefer load is critical, top priority. Everything must go right, cargo cold, deliveries made on time, every time. This shit is frozen, after all.
You make it happen in Colorado Springs. Like clockwork. Smooth as silk. Pick a cliché, any cliché.
You head south, hang a right from I-25 to U.S 160 at Walsenburg. You see a sign that tells you there’s a pass ahead — La Veta Pass. You get on the horn and a vet hauler lets you know that La Veta westbound is no problem. He does not lie.
It’s slow going up the east side, but simple biz on the descent, and you break out into the San Luis Valley at 65. Pretty soon, you’ve rolled through Alamosa, Monte Vista, Del Norte, South Fork.
There’s another pass ahead: Wolf Creek. La Veta was nothing. Wolf Creek will be the same, you think. You’re from Chicago, you know your shit, you’ve done one mountain pass, no need to call a vet for info. You’re a confident dude, one paw on the wheel, an energy drink in the other hand, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune booming on Sirius.
Gimme three steps, gimme three steps mister, gimme three steps toward the door…
Turns out, confidence is ill-advised; the pace of existence quickens in startling fashion as you roll on.
The east approach to the summit of Wolf Creek is a breeze: a steady but easy climb in the far-right lane, a steep incline from just before the ski area on to the summit. No big deal.
You pull over at the summit, leave the cab, stretch, check the equipment and the trailer temp, take a leak, look around. A sign tells you the altitude is 10,857 feet above sea level. That’s high, you think. I’m on top of the world, in so many ways. Goddammit, life is good, and it can only get better!
Time to move on, make the eighty miles to Durango, offload, catch some sleep at a rest stop or a pullout, push on to Flag.
As you begin to roll down the west side of the pass, you see a sign: 6.8 percent grade. It doesn’t register. After all, you’ve cruised plenty of road, never had a problem, grade’s not even 10 percent, you think. You forget you’re from Illinois, where grades don’t exist. You don’t know grades.
Signs alert you to gear down. Why worry, you’ve got the rig in a low enough gear, and the brakes are good. You know what you’re doing.
A few minutes later, you start to shift in your seat and think, “Damn, this road is a mother.”
You work the brakes, the tractor and trailer subject to a mighty gravitational pull.
Then … the smell. It’s nasty. The odor seeps into the cabin of the tractor. You work the brakes, the truck rolls a bit faster. You work the brakes. The smell. Faster. The smell, stronger. Faster. The brakes. Faster.
The brake pads and rotors heat up. Gotta pull over. Can’t — there’s no shoulder.
Faster. Curves. Check speed. You’re doing 50.
Miss the first runaway truck ramp. Fuck. Sign: last ramp one mile ahead.
Speed 55, phenolic resins yield to friction and heat, brake pads glaze, the smell. What to do?
Speed 65, runaway ramp ahead on the right, coming up fast, line of cars passing in front of the ramp entrance, can’t make it. Sign says lane narrows.
Another sign: hairpin ahead.
A fucking hairpin! What?
Speed 70. Swerve wide, road narrows at curve. Just miss a head-on with a Suburban crammed with teens from The Happy Church in Amarillo, Texas, the brainwashed dweebs on their way home from Shiprock following a less-than-successful missionary venture. The adolescent devotees are singing hymns and devouring fried mozzarella sticks from Sonic as the left edge of your T680 chrome bumper shreds the side of the Chevy. The youth pastor will credit Jesus for saving their lives, and the praise band will dedicate a medley in their honor when they attend their first service back home.
You barely make the curve.
Things are happening too fast to comprehend, steep banks next to the highway suddenly disappear. Sky, horizon in the distance, concrete barrier. Hairpin.
What’s on the other side of the barrier?
Holy shit, there’s nothing there!
(Info: The spot is called The Overlook, an observation area located to the side of a hairpin turn on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass. Tourists from low altitude exit their vehicles in an adjacent parking lot in order to move to a rail and gawk at the valley of the San Juan River as it opens far below, the east and west forks of the river joining in the distance, pastures, water sparkling in ponds, cattle grazing …
In late autumn, leaves on the aspen trees on the slopes bordering the valley blaze yellow, orange, red, at max chroma when struck by the perfect hit of sunlight. Drenched with fear sweat and struggling at the wheel of a brakeless, huge truck hurtling forward at 70 mph, a driver is unlikely to fully appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the scene rushing toward him.
There are stands of pines just below the two-hundred foot sheer drop on the other side of the concrete barrier. The trees stop anything that plunges over the edge of The Overlook, if rocky outcroppings don’t first halt the descent.)
So fast. Everything happens so fast.
Your bloodstream is flooded with adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol; the brew ignites a brain blast, and damned if your life doesn’t pass before your eyes in a millisecond or so.
Just like people who haven’t died claim it will.
I’m contemplating the plunge as I sit alone in the basement.
I have a hunch that quite a few people deal with similar thoughts as the quarantine continues.
The jittery character of my meditation is a result of the anxiety brought on by the plague, as is its reduced content: the end game, the alarming rate at which the game plays out. The distractions. The recollections. The utter messiness of it all.
I’m in the basement.
The little assholes across the road are making more noise. Their grandfather jury-rigs a zipline. One of the litter crashes into the side of a tree, and the urchins and their parents are in a lather. Grandma rushes inside the house to down another Xanax. I hear a siren in the distance.
Kathy is upstairs, playing the piano, adding to the overload.
She’s dressed in her homemade Batman costume.
I need a snack, and a re-up on a cocktail. I’ve been ordered to resist the urge to go upstairs until Kathy completes her project. When my mate issues a command, it’s best that I obey. Kathy was raised in a difficult neighborhood; she knows how to do damage if and when it’s necessary.
The situation prompts questions.
First: Do I dare make a run to replenish a vodka tonic, and fetch a fistful of crackers and a hunk of cheese?
Second: What has my life come to? What, if anything, can I do to salvage this accelerating disaster?
Kathy’s filming a video of her rendition of the Batman theme from the 60s television show starring Adam West as Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin. You’d think her hand-crafted costume would encourage a blast of superhero confidence, but no, she tenses up. She was a stellar performer in musical theater for many years. She plays piano and sings in public for money. Still, she experiences performance anxiety during this project, she shorts out. Quarantine has been hard on her. I wonder if she can borrow a Xanax from the neighbor?
She’s on her tenth take, and things aren’t going well. Kathy plans to turn and hiss at the camera when she completes the song, but she is so determined to hiss properly, and at the right moment, that she screws up as she keys her way to the finale. Every now and then I hear her scream. She’s screaming, the unrestrained juvenile jerkoffs across the road are screaming. I hear sirens approaching.
The theme song continues in the background (including Kathy’s zippy improv interlude) as I mouse to YouTube to watch a couple clips from the old television series.
I play, then replay, a segment in which Batman follows Robin up a ladder. The Caped Crusader clearly huffs some chicken crack, and I realize why I liked Batman when it was first broadcast: the adolescent innuendoes, the garish outfits and camp performances, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt, each in turn playing The Catwoman.
I play and replay several clips featuring Julie and Eartha. Julie jolts my semi-Nordic center with her size, her pale allure, her eyebrows and proud breasts, but I risk the charge of old white guy bias if I select her as my preferred Catwoman. Eartha, on the other hand, is exotic, milk-chocolatey; she purrs and, if I don’t opt for her, I’ll be branded a churl by cancel culture trolls who lurk in their sparsely furnished and badly-lit studio apartments or college dorm rooms, on the alert for transgressions, ready to pounce on anyone not perfect, like them.
I wear my insecurities like a second skin now that I’m an old man. I’m feeble, vulnerable. I can’t risk an assault at this stage of the game. I post a comment on my Facebook page with a photo I pilfer from Pinterest: “I love Eartha Kitt, don’t you?” I get 23 likes within a minute’s time.
Batman, back then. I remember.
I am on the road in the music biz in 1966, at the height of the teleBatman craze. My compatriots and I score a key of high-test michoacan weed during a three-night gig in Kansas City, Mo., and I’m toasted when I first watch the show on a primitive color TV in a room at a rundown lodging establishment located east of the city, next to the interstate.
I view another episode of the program two days later with my pal, the guitarist and singer Grady Waugh. We are thoroughly trashed, collapsed on dilapidated singles in a seedy by-the-hour motor court in Indianapolis. We top off the weed with a bottle or two of Romilar with codeine. So, of course, I enjoy the broadcast.
We watch Batman again while we stretch out, totally fucked up, on dilapidated singles in a roach infested room in Columbus, Ohio. I enjoy the program, and continue to do so as we make our way, club date by club date, crappy motel by crappy motel, back to home base in NYC.
The weed supply peters out, so I return to methedrine and biphetamine sulfate for fuel, and not even Julie and Eartha can secure my attention for long, though when I’m hammered by a brace of Black Beauties, Julie definitely holds the edge. This delightful blend of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine suits me then, and would do so today were the little marvels still manufactured. These days I’d need a major-league dose of the Black Beauty’s more refined cousin, Adderall, to do the trick, but I am wise to avoid it, given the certainty of a stroke. Perhaps as relevant: I have neither the cash nor the connection.
Kathy has worked on her rendition of the Batman theme for two weeks now, laboring for an hour or so each day, readying herself for her appearance in an online jazz improv class Zoom meeting.
She’s spent considerable time and effort on her Batman getup and stage set — cutting out and hand coloring Batman logos and taping them to the wall behind the keyboard, constructing her cowl, fashioning shirt and cape. She’s sure her fellow jazz nerds will get a charge out of her performance. While others in the class will do little more than slog through the tune, adding a clumsy flourish or two, her video will feature Batman! And a hiss! The piano crowd will love it!
She twice interrupts her practice and taping today to answer the door dressed as the Caped Crusader. This alarms the visitors who ring the doorbell, the first bearing a batch of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies (“quarantine treats”), the other seeking to borrow a lawnmower.
The noise made by those loathsome children is unbearable. I’ll soon require the services of a tested criminal lawyer. I’ll plead insanity. It shouldn’t be hard to prove.
I sack up and make a run for the vodka and snacks. Kathy is absorbed in her task and fails to notice me. I refill my glass, snatch the cheese, and scurry back to the basement.
With another vodka and tonic in hand, I take in a dropper load of my pal Joe’s special tincture, and pursue an answer to the more important of my questions.
What to make of the clutter?
Where’s this headed, at such a stunning pace?
What’s to be done?
At dinner, Kathy informs me her next project will involve a jazz improv take on the Richard Burton/Julie Andrews rendition of “Camelot.” She has an idea for a gown and a crown.
The noise is exasperating.
I try to watch a video in which Jacques Pepin and Julia Child prepare a salmon terrine, and I can’t concentrate on the list of ingredients due to the hullabaloo across the road.
I was a big fan of Julia’s WGBH show in 1963 and was profoundly aroused (as only a 17-year-old lad can be) as I watched her cook coq au vin. I like to imagine that Julia is still with us.
I am considering the installation of an electric fence on the perimeter of my property. If the charge in the wire is great enough, and the ground wet enough, and a screaming, shoeless, cute-as-a-button pre-adolescent makes contact with the fence …
Siberia With a View sits in the middle of a region of the country suffering what moisturephiles call “severe drought.” The Forest Service has issued extreme fire danger warnings and federal, county, and local authorities have put total fire bans in place.
The crew across the road has ignited a bonfire in the back yard.
Two of the kids argue about who gets to push a marshmallow on to a stick, then begin to hit each other with rocks. The kids scream. Their parents scream. The grandparents scream.
There must be a way to deal with the stress of this isolated existence, and the anxiety it produces.
What about religion, or science? These work for a lot of people.
As the believer hurtles toward The Overlook, her brain flooded with chemicals, her life passing before her eyes, she clings to a time-tested worldview. She is quieted by the thought the truck is ephemeral, a perishable and insignificant material vessel providing temporary shelter for an indestructible, immaterial soul, for an absolute “her” who’s destined by virtue of regular tithing and opposition to abortion to reside forever in a gilded wonderland.
Succoured, she ignores the odor of the glazed pads and rotors, certain she’ll soon be with like-minded believers, the squeaky-clean mob lounging in a crystalline trailer of immense proportions, the transport gliding frictionless above the surface of a celestial highway, a divine, all-knowing and loving entity at the Big Wheel, soothing harp music playing in the background, an inexhaustible supply of manna being shared by the ecstatic, insubstantial passengers.
She believes those who do not share her worldview, vote Democrat, and approve of a woman’s right to choose, are force-fed with burning sulphur as they ride in another vehicle, stacked like cordwood in an infernally hot trailer tugged by a dark tractor, the array steered by a demon, a great din (the grinding of massive dry gears, the screams of the damned, the noise made by children in a nearby yard, etc.) assaulting the ears of the tortured occupants, awful smells in the trailer amplified by repeated blasts of furnace-hot air, the scene reminiscent of a locked metal shipping container crammed with heat-struck immigrants from Chengdu who thought they were on their way to indentured servitude at restaurants in the US and Canada only to discover, too late, that the journey is to end in an awful fashion.
I doubt religion can work for me. For one thing, the tithing is out of the question.
Counter to the occupant of the born-again truck, the scientific sort (the stepchild of Descartes) finds diversion and solace in reams of evidence, in lab test results that indicate an eternal soul does not exist, that there is nothing but matter organized without benefit of an omnipotent creator’s blueprint, a coincidence of atoms that, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, must eventually fall victim to entropy, grow cold, and disorganize. No loving First Cause, no paradise, no hell to worry about. There you go! A minor league epicurean, she’s assuaged by the thought her atoms will flutter back to the galactic reaches from whence they came, perhaps to eventually join with others in order to create a novel life form. And, of course, she’s reassured by the fact she’s so much smarter than everyone else, won’t listen to Fox News or country music, and detests anyone who votes Republican.
I doubt this works for me. I find Fox News endlessly entertaining — a veritable playground for the skeptic — and I regularly listen to Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams, and Margo Price.
What I don’t doubt is that my truck is headed for The Overlook, and that my existence has been in disarray from its beginning. I’m having trouble finding diversion and comfort.
Take away the filters of heartening worldviews stoked by fictions that calm the mind the adherent and I’m left with things unresolved, events and motives variously interpreted, situations lacking final and clear results, relationships erratic and incomplete, entanglements without satisfying resolutions, strife without end.
I hold hands with Heraclitus as we step into the stream, with no logos available as an anchor.
Even without a plague and a quarantine, life’s a mess.
Like my office and studio.
My office and studio are emblematic of the absence of calming myths that offer the promise of timeless bliss, of certainty that trumps unsettling ambiguity. They embody a life lived without the assurances provided by scientific models hardened with concrete “fact,” an existence fortified by data, graphs, imaging technology, and the Hadron Collider.
My office and studio are literal and figurative fire traps, reflections of my fragmented condition. A clutter that grows in isolation.
“You really need to clean out the office and studio,” says Kathy (who herself has a work space stacked three inches deep with paper and other debris). I’m sure she refers both to the actual office and studio and to what they represent.
“Yep,” I answer, “I’ve been meaning to get to it.”
“You’ve been saying that for years.”
“Yep,” I answer, “I need to tend to it pretty soon now.”
Turns out the messy spaces, real and symbolic, are necessary.
I enjoy writing and painting amidst the mess, leaving behind objects that might please someone, perhaps give them a laugh. Someday.
It is out of chaos that art grows.
I take a break from reviewing unrelated, altered bits of personal history and turn to the current political and cultural scenes for comic relief. I’ve witnessed a lot of ridiculous shit shows during a life in which I’ve done many things, most briefly and not well, but few match up with the political/cultural doings I encounter when I scan the net or satellite TV channels.
It’s tribalism to the max, each tribe casting the doofus net in all directions, boosting the home team with a steady diet of crap.
To riff on Qoheleth: It’s ego and a chase after profit.
I mention this in an e-mail to a friend, and he freaks out. “That’s so cynical,” he writes back. “There’s good people in politics. I’ve got to believe that; otherwise, how will we deal with the environment, social injustice, the threat of nuclear annihilation?”
I reply: “Politicians are ‘good’ only when they are aggrandized and enriched by a decision or action. They are ‘good’ as a result of self-interested calculation or by accident.”
He responds with his tribal mantra, highlighting the evils done by members of the opposing tribe, putting the spotlight on the moral and intellectual superiority of his favored political leaders and his fellow travelers.
I respond: “They’re all the same, regardless of tribe. It’s just a matter of style. Ego and profit: strike a certain blend, and we serfs might get something positive out of it. Otherwise, the pols work for cash, status, and their owners, not for you or me.”
I have more than a passing acquaintance with politicians — incumbents and eager wannabes. During more than two decades as a news hack I meet hundreds of them, from all levels, local to national. I sit with U.S. Senators and Representatives, with governors and other state office holders, with local pols by the truckload. I can recite their bullshit lines in my sleep.
I meet so many of these clowns that I close my eyes and know the level of their endeavor by the handshake: the higher climbs the monkey, the more limp the grip. My eyes open, I see the shit-eating grins — predatory smiles to equal that of any fundamentalist preacher.
I watch snippets on the tube plucked from each political tribe’s national convention. I need a laugh.
The first tribe dispenses one version after another of the idea that the nation has been trashed by the swollen, narcissistic ogre of a president, and his craven cronies. It’s been a fucking disaster, they say, brownshirts are in the streets, the justice system and the postal service are being distorted and dismantled, a plague ignored and mishandled; billionaires prosper while a majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck with no savings as a cushion, millions face eviction and bankruptcy as the plague rages; things were so much better when our tribe had the helm. You know, us: the smart ones, not the ones who drive tractors or work at a lumberyard somewhere in Nebraska. And don’t forget, drones are a heck of lot better than carpet bombing. Plus, be ready for the worst since, if the other tribe loses, there’ll be a coup. These and other nourishing nuggets are tossed to the throng with November in mind.
Members of the other tribe shout, ignoring the fact their president has overseen a disaster, bungling at every juncture with plague ravaging the society and economy. Innocent black folk continue to be harassed and shot by police and riots are taking place in cities, the president and his hideous minions encourage racism and greed. Reprehensible policies and practices, dishonesty and graft are the order of the day, yet tribal droogs shout that only this president and administration can save the country from riots, plague, dishonesty, and graft. I watch one speaker after another scream — literally scream — about the horrors that lie ahead should the other tribe be victorious. There’ll be no police to protect us, screams one boob with a misshapen head. Gangs from Central America will move into the house next door, sell your children to Isis, and Sharia law will take the place of the Constitution, screams a soon-to-be elderly woman with stiff hair. Cities will burn, the suburbs will be destroyed by hordes of rampaging brutes, money will evaporate, they’ll take your guns and make you speak Chinese, the only things available in grocery stores will be kale and tofu. Once the raping and pillaging are complete, the few surviving decent, god-fearing people will be sent to reeducation camps operated by woke Ivy League sophomores.
It doesn’t matter the tribe, pols pursue similar personal goals, they just fish with different bait, hoping to reel in enough votes to allow for a win at the polls in November. It’s all a matter of ego and profit, regardless of the age, the color of skin, the gender, the tribe. The winners will flash a shit-eating grin, and the rest of us will drop our pants and bend over.
I do some fishing, working the mnemonic stream to hook an experience that further explains my long sour attitudes regarding government, politics, and humanity in general.
One particular gig comes to mind as I entertain reworked memories that flicker on the brain screen
The kids across the road are performing an impromptu concert with air horns, and I struggle to stay on task.
Here’s what I yank from the channel.
My friend Jim and I have interesting experiences during our time in the sleaze biz in the ‘70s, but during the year after we create The Oyster we discover that it is discouraging when one expends a lot of energy and realizes little return. Too much work, too many troubles, too little money. So, we quit. We abandon our office with the red shag carpet wall covering and gold cherub light fixtures, and we move on.
Times are tough. The gallery I own with Kip Farris closed after a couple years of intense, often illegal fun, having produced no income. I wore out my welcome in academia where, for a time, I earned a paycheck laboring as the worst adjunct instructor of philosophy in the history of American higher education. The Oyster, too, is now a thing of the past, and I’m a good distance from the day when I settle into a long stint as a news hack.
Kathy keeps our family alive while I wallow in self pity.
What to do? I wonder then what I wonder today: Am I trapped in a series of disconnected, most often brief adventures that persists until the truck arrives at The Overlook?
So, I lurch into yet another brief adventure.
It’s 1980. A friend tells me of a job opening at a local non-profit dedicated to bringing all manner of uplifting arts experiences to disadvantaged members of the community.
Aha, I think, here’s a horse I can ride. This project looks to be bullshit, and if there’s anyone who can saddle up and herd bullshit to market, it’s me.
I meet the executive director and provide her with an exaggerated resumé. The resumé includes a wealth of impressive polysyllabic terms. I am a writer, after all.
As a high-minded, upper middle class liberal married to a renowned leftist university professor of sociology, as well as being a social diva active on the boards of the symphony and the opera association, and a major donor to several sub-par local theater companies, the director is thrilled to have an opportunity to work with “someone with similar values, a kindred spirit deeply committed to the local arts and intellectual scene.”
That’s me. My resumé makes it clear.
She notes that the last manager of the organization’s artists-in-residence program, an author of overworked poems unsuited for publication, removed his beret, shaved off his goatee, and left the post to return to the study of the law, hoping to graduate, pass the bar exam, and work at his uncle’s prestigious Denver firm. The law pays much better than unpublished poetry and a crummy job at a non-profit.
All I need is the OK from the government agency that funds the program and I, formerly Alvin ‘Call me Al’ DeTerio, Merle Box, Carla Fursberg, and Renata Santini, as well as the worst adjunct instructor of philosophy in the history of American higher education, and an artiste of little note, will be the new manager.
I’m qualified. My resumé makes this clear.
The artists-in-residence program is funded by CETA, the federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act, established in 1973, ostensibly to train low income and unemployed citizens, funding their tenure in public agencies or with private not-for-profits for a period of up to two years, thereby providing the employment history needed for a move to an unsubsidized job, a late-model car, and purchase of a recently constructed three-bedroom home on a patio lot in a distant suburb.
The bureaucrat-in-training at the crowded CETA office looks at my resumé and at my record of financial ruin, bites into a meatball sub and, with a blob of sauce falling to the front of his Hawaiian shirt, says, “I’m lookin’ at your name here. So, you’re Jewish, huh? So how come a Jewish guy like you needs a job?”
I reply: “The last name is Swedish, and all people with Swedish ancestors are dour failures-in-waiting. Without this job, I’m headed for Skid Row, and I’ll have to take my children with me. It’s no place for a child. You don’t want that on your conscience, do you?”
Reality check: CETA, like most government poverty programs, is a boondoggle — a way for the ruling class to direct public money (absent the skim by program administrators) to poor people whose taxes produced the public money in the first place, and who otherwise might cause trouble. With the pittance in hand, potential troublemakers can lounge around, consume drugs with fellow CETA interns and lunch on meatball subs, while the powers that be continue to profit with little resistance.
I am one of those potential troublemakers.
As are my fellow artists at the non-profit.
The artists-in-residence staff includes me (visual arts and writing); a musician (a guitar player who knows four chords, specializes in “Latino Fusion Jazz,” and has mastered a brief but rousing rendition of “La Bamba”); an actress who will go on to a less-than-stellar film and television career playing the mom next door or the male co-star’s ex wife; a “ceramicist” who produces dull-colored tiles that are used to create insipid murals, and who is enraged when I refer to him as “a dirt person”; an “authentic, traditional African storyteller” (a former dental hygienist, born and raised in northeast Denver, who read several books about Nigeria); and a mime — an obese mime with cataracts, swollen ankles, varicose veins, and Type 2 diabetes. A substandard mime, but with an admirable dedication to the craft; she has been in therapy for seven years and has yet to utter a word to her analyst.
We are missing a poet. He shaved and returned to law school.
Each member of the staff has a beat: a nursing home, senior center, day care facility, Head Start class, city-run kindergarten summer program, something of the sort.
My beat: maximum security youth prisons and gang intervention programs.
No one else is willing to take these on.
Grist for the mill, I think, attempting to remain jaunty and upbeat as I head out to each workshop. It’ll give me things to write about.
It does. And it plays a major role in the shaping my opinion of contemporary American life.
It provides me with insights pertinent today, insights lacking in most of the commentaries dispensed by “friends” I encounter online each morning, or individuals I have the misfortune of chatting with during rare early morning trips to the supermarket, many of them Whole Foods savants who fancy themselves ally and instructor for the proles squatting on the other side of the tracks and at distant points on the economic spectrum.
These woke solons have never made a mistake and, as a result, are sure they’ve earned the right to dispense wisdom from the family room of a five bedroom home in a gated community, a residence with a garage featuring bays for his Lexus and her BMW, and the Toyota hybrids driven by the kids. Their Dacor refrigerators are stocked with pricey goodies delivered by Amazon, and Bosch dual fuel ranges take center stage in their kitchens.
To sum up what I learn as an artist in residence that few if any of these elites know from experience: there is a legion of goofs out there who are screwed up from birth, perhaps from conception, from the instant sperm successfully invades egg following a feverish coupling in the bushes next to the country club golf course or on the backseat of stolen Ford Pinto. Some of these unsalvageable characters grow up to be corporate execs, brokers or bankers, some to be senators or the President of the United States, while others linger on the street corner or in the alleyway, waiting for a saviour to amble into view. You meet all types in maximum security youth prisons and gang intervention programs.
Given the chance, these deranged motherfuckers will eviscerate enlightened college grads and sell their offspring, right after they’re assured that their lives matter, or they’re told that they can take a place at the economic table if they only wise up, ditch the Cat hat and overalls, and go to a community college to study computer programming.
Progressive sorts urge insurrection from the comfort of their rec rooms, foresee a culture cleansed and rid of “fascists.” While ultralib mom and dad watch Rachel Maddow, their privileged children drive their Toyota hybrids to the center of cities where they don balaclavas and bandanas, swarm legitimate demonstrations, break windows, scream and throw rocks at the police, spray paint monuments, pollute a righteous cause, draw attention from the demand for rights for the oppressed, make off with the contents of Best Buy stores, all in the name of bringing down a “fascist” power elite mommy and daddy told them about.
They are ignorant of the fact that, not all that long ago, fascists did more than leave idiotic messages on Twitter and appoint jackasses to the Supreme Court. Real fascists don’t let you leave the riot alive. They tie you up and drop you from helicopters.
They were never told that Robespierre, Saint-Just, and many Montagnards ended up at the guillotine, the blade loosed by once-trusted comrades. Stalin ordered the assassination of Trotsky.
At the same time, dimwits who struggled to pass their GED exams don the fatigues they purchase from Cabella’s, strap on their second-hand body armor, load their semi-autos, lace up their combat boots and, despite the fact they couldn’t qualify for admission to the law enforcement academy, stumble out to protect the American Way, so long as that American Way doesn’t include socialism, gay people, or Big Government. They’re determined to see that their Second Amendment rights, poorly constructed statutes of traitorous Confederate generals, used car lots, and donut shops are protected from the Antifa threat. Hell, if things get out of hand, these guys know how to deal with the situation, don’t they? It shouldn’t matter that most are unaccomplished braggarts who can’t do simple math and couldn’t find a clitoris if they had a map, or that few served in the military, with fewer yet seeing combat.
They are patriots. As are their associates among the growing QAnon crew of nutbags, with their tales of pedophile satanists ruling the world, their apopheniac fantasies featuring George Soros and Illuminati overlords plotting to destroy the few righteous members of the species and replace them with soulless Chinese droids. Did you know JFK faked his death and, in the guise of Q, has clued us in to the fact that the pedophile cabal operates a child sex slave camp at a Tucson cement plant? Or that Princess Di attempted to halt the 9/11 attacks and was killed by the Rothchilds, who are in league with Angela Merkel, who is Hitler’s granddaughter?
Our fervent militia members and the Qs are Muricans. They missed class the day the teacher reviewed what happened to Ernst Rohm when Himmler arrived on the scene.
What have I learned? The young psychopaths I met in prisons are full-grown men and women now. And the ones who aren’t serving consecutive life terms are more than a match for college grads and camo numbskulls alike. Tip the cart: they will spill out and the trouble will start in earnest.
The pols who perch near the top branch could care less, despite what they say on Fox News or CNN. The carnage is of little interest. They work at the behest of the few, real owners of the country, and care for nothing but ego and profit. Let the dogs bark; sit back and watch the fires from the penthouse.
Clutter dovetails with delusion; it does not yield to order.
Relax, you don’t know everything.
In fact, you don’t know shit.
Avoid street corners and alleyways.
Eat some cheese, sip a cocktail.
Things are speeding up.
You have little time left.
Our species is doomed.
There is one benefit to watching snippets of the Republican Tribe convention: I nearly achieve an erection watching Kimberly Guilfoyle go through her manic, stimulant-prompted paces at the podium. A post-50 gal with formidable hips and plenty of energy never fails to intrigue and excite me.
That night, as I sleep in my little bed, I have a dream: Kimberly and I are in flagrante delicto in a room at a Courtyard by Marriot in Alexandria, Virginia.
Don Jr. and Jerry Jr., sans pants, watch us from a corner of the room.
When Kim and I are finished, we towel off as the boys fetch books from the bedside cabinet drawer and read aloud. Don selects passages from The Book of Mormon and Jerry hits us with favorite selections from the Gideon Bible, in particular from Leviticus.
Once thoroughly dry, Kimberley extends her arms up and to her sides and, as she raises them and frontal aspects of her physique tremble violently, she screams, “THE BEST… IS YET…TO COME!”
An aged blockhead often responds in a particular way when he reckons with the clutter and senses The Overlook is just ahead.
He shits his pants.
He’s scared. He’s been familiar with fear since he is forced in third grade to watch black and white films of nuclear explosions, then duck and cover beneath his school desk.
The Overlook hits the fear bullseye dead on.
Fear is a key ingredient in current American life; to hear it, there are threats lurking around every corner. Fear is encouraged whenever a cluck connects with similar clucks in a social media bubble, or he’s inundated by the tsunami of blather dispensed by cable news and talk radio. It rises when he listens to the speeches screamed at the Republican Party convention, watches coverage of a Black Lives Matter demonstration, hears someone mention Hilary Clinton, sees a photo of Mitch McConnell, or checks the stock market on an hourly basis. Fear and anxiety increases each day the plague remains a menace and the isolation persists. Paranoia easily takes root in the American mind, and it flourishes with fear as fertilizer. MAGA hats go on sale; cancel culture feeds on its young. People trust Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson.
The terror amps up to a frantic level as the speed increases for the oldster and the brakes begin to glaze.
Be afraid, be very afraid.
The grizzled feeb clutches the wheel with arthritic fingers, tries to clench his asshole (shoulda done more of those Kegels when the time was right) and when he arrives at the precipice, in most cases (including for most of the brave scientific and rational sorts who championed atheism), the knucklehead turns to a higher power.
As I clutch the wheel, I find that my higher power is the AARP.
I rely on the AARP since God is out of the picture. I am a crypto-Episcopalian — a skeptic christened as an uncomprehending baby, taken from his crib by an English grandmother while his parents slept, and spirited to Colorado’s oldest Episcopal Church for a dousing. An entreaty to an Unmoved Mover will produce no response, and there is no pastoral help available. My personal Anglican priest, Doug, a friend and fellow lover of fine food and wine, retired last week, and has ceased responding to e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages. He and God are making sausage following ancient Semite recipes. They’re over the hill, and gone.
The AARP is all I’ve got.
With the plunge directly ahead, my dread at a peak, the good folks at AARP throw me a lifeline in the form of an article in the organization’s monthly magazine.
The advice in the article will do nothing to stall my demise, but offers instructions on how to handle the stress associated with bodily and mental disintegration. As I read, I am supposed to feel less fearful, for a moment or two. My undies should remain unsoiled, for now.
(Note: I did not choose to be associated with the AARP. My opinion of the organization is less than rosy: I compare the AARP to the California mortuary director who removes a number of Mom’s body parts prior to delivery of the corpse to the flames, then peddles head, legs, internal organs, etc. to medical schools and “researchers,” some of whom display Mom’s parts on Instagram. It’s said that several heads sold by one of these funeral fiends ended up center stage in disturbing Dark Web porn videos produced in Mexico.
The AARP thrives by buffing a weak shine on decrepitude, convincing desperate and gullible oldies that the elderly remain vital and productive. This shine comes at a price, of course, in the form of membership dues. Granted, the AARP sends members a card that entitles a bearer to a 10-percent discount on a night’s lodging at a Motel 6, or 10-percent off a meal at The Cracker Barrel from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but the benefit is insignificant in light of the AARP’s predatory profiteering. The AARP plays Tap the Simp, drains as much loot as possible, then moves on when the simp expires. Dupes get increasingly confused as they rocket to The Overlook, so why not take advantage? There’s an endless caravan headed down the hill. Take all you can, while you can.
Kathy signed us up, and pays our dues. She also subscribes to Prevention Magazine, and puts the Rodale crew on a pedestal next to Ghandi and Mother Theresa.)
The title of the AARP article that promises to allay my fears as I hurtle to the drop is “How to Survive Almost Anything.” I read it while I take a dump, one of a couple expected during the day. I’m old, and this is what old guys do. Especially old guys who, hung over and easily distracted, forget to deposit the entire load the first time they’re on the can.
There are a few scenarios missing from the “Almost Anything” category as far as I’m concerned, but I amuse myself with the article while ridding myself of noxious waste. There is a surfeit of waste to unload, the result of the taco and tequila fiesta I arrange the night before. I realize halfway through the article that my South of The Border extravaganza is not only an unforgivable instance of cultural appropriation, but that it includes far too many Serrano peppers and suspect refried pintos. I have good reason to believe my stock of pork fat has gone bad.
The article is organized in terms of crises, each crisis described, each description followed by detailed directions regarding how an endangered and frightened senior can save himself or herself if the hammer drops.
It is a good day when you can erase a number of threats off the Danger Dry-Erase Board, or remove several Things That Scare the Shit Out of Me sticky notes from the fridge door.
Crisis 1. “You definitely, seriously smell smoke.”
I know smoke. Definitely.
I once woke at 4 a.m. in a seedy dwelling atop a nightclub in Aspen, Colorado, to find the wall of the room in flames, a layer of filthy smoke descending from above. How on earth could the fire have started? Luckily, my bandmates and I are able to escape the apartment, gather our belongings, and flee town before the sheriff arrives at the scene of the blaze.
When in the news trade, I report on a fire training exercise. I don bunker gear, enter an abandoned frame house, sit in a room with a bunch of incompetent volunteer firefighters, and watch flames race up a wall and surge across the ceiling above us. As smoke quickly fills the structure, I crawl out, close to the floor, blind, maintaining contact with the dyslexic feed store cashier/firefighter in front of me by grabbing the back of his turnout coat. I stand in the yard as the house burns to the ground. I wear a mask and a respirator during the fun inside the house, but I cough up bits of black crap for several days.
I know smoke. Seriously.
I smell smoke every night.
This probably has something to do with the intoxicants I take in during my waking hours. I’m also often awakened in the middle of the night by military jets landing outside the bedroom window to the accompaniment of circus calliope music. Nevertheless, smoke (and surely, its source) is one more thing about which to be worried. How to deal with it, alleviate the concern?
The AARP knows.
The article instructs me to change the batteries in the smoke detectors.
This requires a ladder. Old people regularly fall from ladders and die.
So, the best I can do is to exchange one fear for another?
Not a bad idea. I appreciate the exchange of one fear for another; novelty freshens a stale routine and, for a 74-year-old inebriated bozo absent a prostate, all is routine, and all routine is stale.
The article also recommends installation of a whole-house sprinkler system.
I Google sprinklers and discover I can secure a measure of peace of mind for $20,000. If I take the monthly contributions I now make to an account established for my Virgin Galactic flight, and put the cash into a sprinkler fund, I’m on my way to the purchase of a system. I add $25 to my Virgin account each month so, let’s see, the sprinkler system will be installed in…
I’ll be beyond The Overlook before pipes and sprinkler heads are in place.
So, I’ll stick with Virgin Galactic and look forward to being weightless with Richard Branson.
I’ll borrow a ladder, and hope Medicare isn’t defunded soon.
Crisis 2. “Your Husband Was Out Working in the Sun, and He Just Collapsed.”
No problem here: I don’t have a husband.
I have a wife, Kathy.
Kathy’s husband will never be outside working in the sun.
Crisis 3. “Creepy People Are Approaching You From Behind.”
So … I’m at Wal Mart!
The solution according to the AARP?
And skilled flourishing of said cane.
An doddering mooncalf who calls himself “Cane Master” suggests I buy and carry a cane and, when thugs threaten, that I twirl the cane in figure eights, then jauntily holster the thin hunk of wood or metal under my armpit, as if shoving a lethal weapon into a holster.
The Cane Master further claims that any potential assailant who foolishly ignores the holster move and hustles toward me intent on doing damage will be stopped when struck between the legs with my weapon.
Well, first of all, isn’t the cane holstered beneath my pit?
Second, what if the assailant is a eunuch, or a woman?
This twit is addled if he thinks the ball sack tactic can deter an attack. I worked in a gang intervention project in Denver in 1980 with 13-year-olds who had shot three or more people, and bragged that their aim improved with each victim. I knew sociopaths, murderers, future politicians, and armed robbers during my work in prison settings. I prowled the streets in Sleazeland with Jim, spending a year at The Oyster immersed in a subculture littered with all manner of brutes, toughs, and joyfully violent assholes. A blow with a cane ain’t gonna work.
Twirl your cane in figure eights, says the Master, holster that puppy, and if the threat persists, strike a wannabe criminal between the legs — in the nuts, the cojones, the nads, the joy orbs.
I knew guys for whom a violent blow to the crotch was little more than a wake-up call.
Bottom line: If you plan to engage in cane-based self defense, you should let the members of your family and your close friends know whether you wish to be cremated or buried, and provide them with details regarding your memorial service and the foods to be served to mourners.
I’ve got a better way to deal with this situation.
Don’t go out of the fucking house unless it’s absolutely necessary!
What kind of half-baked coot regularly leaves the fortress, especially after dark?
Hold the Wal Mart visits to a minimum, keep the doors of your house locked (keyed deadbolts, two per door), and own firearms. Don’t forget regular practice at the range; you lose your touch if you don’t squeeze off a batch of rounds every couple of weeks. Shoot at human profile targets. Head shots are best, but hard for the elderly to achieve. Be content with hits to the abdomen and chest. The more, the merrier.
Crisis 3. No One is Emerging From That Crash, and Help is Miles Away.
The AARP provides a bevy of first aid techniques that an old mook can bring to bear should he stumble across the scene of a violent car crash or be a party to a life-threatening event during the senior discount dinner hour (4-5 p.m.) at Golden Corral — ways to deal with bleeding, airway obstructions, blast wounds, respiratory difficulties, hypothermia, rapid-onset septicemia heptagoria.
My first thought?
There’s no need to learn these moves, since these are questionable crisis situations.
First, what are you doing out? You should be locked away at home, with your cane and a couple of loaded Glock 19C Gen4s.
Second: Ask yourself: Should I automatically act to save someone? You need a check list to review prior to any response. For example: do you need to pay the cashier at Golden Corral in time to take advantage of the senior discount? Which do you prefer: administer the Heimlich and save some useless cypher so he or she can continue to receive Social Security payments and hasten the depletion of the nation’s treasury, or enjoy a heaping portion of the delicious pot roast and all the salad you can eat, for only $5.99? ( From 4-5 p.m.) You need clear priorities.
Third: If you come across someone suffering from hypothermia, you have a bigger problem than trying to figure out how to assist them. You have likely suffered some kind of nasty cerebral event, and you are staggering around outside, in sub-zero temps. You are probably clad in your PJs, and you forgot to wear shoes.
I suggest you forget about helping others, and purchase an ankle monitor that sends an alert to local first-responders any time you leave your residence. Hedge your bets.
Here in Siberia With a View, emergency personnel will not get to you in time. If you retired and moved here, it’s best to relocate ASAP to a city prior to strapping on your monitor, before you require the attention of a paramedic and a ride to the ER in an ambulance. Let me know you’re moving. I’ll send my neighborhood skateboarder posse to loot your property. Leave your Glocks and your cane. I need them.
Crisis 5. You’ve Lost the Trail, and It’s getting dark.
I move on.
Final crisis: Your Dog Just Ate A Whole Bar of Chocolate.
I don’t have a dog.
If you’re old and you own a dog, you need to unload the animal. It’s only a matter of time before you trip over your pet, fall, break your hip or, worse yet, suffer a spinal cord injury that results in your being shuttled to a nursing home and held motionless in a halo while you choke down tepid, unseasoned gruel. Until you die.
Cheer up: chocolate is cheaper than a hubcap filled with antifreeze, and all you need to do is unwrap the bar, toss it to the floor, and call the pooch into the room. Problem solved, fear (and pooch) gone.
A bit of advice: while the canine suffers its prolonged, agonizing death, lock yourself in a distant room and watch reruns of Wheel of Fortune. You’ve seen the shows before, but there’s no way you remember them. Or, better yet, go to Golden Corral while the dog expires. I’m told the pot roast is wonderful. If you arrive between 4 and 5 p.m., it’s only $5.99!
I text my personal physician, Wanda, and notify her that I have an important question to ask — one that only she can answer.
I add: “The question must be answered quickly. As in Stat!”
She responds two days later.
“This better not be another request for Ketamine,” she writes.
“No,” I text in return. “As my personal physician and my confidant, you know I am ‘getting on in years’ as unimaginative guest speakers say during Rotary Club luncheons. You also know I host a slow-growing but relentless cancer. I realize I’ve delayed my annual Medicare-funded “wellness check” but, believe me, this damned cancer is making headway; it’s pushing my truck down the hill. No need for expensive tests, no need for data. I’m also pretty sure my decades-long relationship with cheap weed resulted in a whopping case of COPD. As my isolation continues, my attention to this dire situation is sharpened.
“I’m approaching what I call ‘The Overlook,’ and I’m pondering the end of things (for me), even dwelling on the subject during the cocktail hour(s). The pace of my existence continues to accelerate, snatches of a life spent in a dither flicker in my thought zone without meaningful connections, and I’m reviewing past activities, some happily, others giving birth to regret and in several instances, to shame — in particular one in 1967 in New York City involving a height-challenged Peruvian-born woman who ran a candy stand in the elevator lobby of The Hotel Albert.
“I hope my finale will take place while I am in my bed, or reclining on the couch, rather than while I’m strapped to a chair in some threadbare care center cum holding facility where I am abused by poorly paid orderlies until such time that I draw my last breath.”
I reach for a water glass filled with Tito’s vodka and I accidentally hit the Send command.
“So, what’s your point?,” writes Wanda after she receives the incomplete message. “This is not another long-winded dodge that ends with a request for Ketamine, is it? You’ve played the ‘I’ve got a fatal cancer and the end is near’ card before. I didn’t fall for it then, I’m not falling for it now.”
She continues. “Get to the point. I have a book club meeting in an hour. I need to go online and find a summary of this month’s selection. The dust jacket indicates the novel deals with the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a Bosnian trans woman during the siege of Sarajevo. I’m sure that being a trans woman, much less a Bosnian trans woman living in a war zone, makes things difficult. In wartime Sarajevo, he/she/they, or whatever pronoun is appropriate, probably has to eat squirrels and go without cosmetics and prescribed unguents, as well as survive the abuses directed at him/her/they by Sunni extremists. I need to be ready for this one. I want to take control of the discussion, and make sure it doesn’t last longer than two hours. Let’s wrap this up. I’m making gougeres for the meeting; they’re in the oven, and I need to keep an eye on them.”
I reply. “I could use a pile of gougeres right now, what with the cocktail hour(s) upon me, and my pending demise dampening my mood. Gougeres are more effective than Zoloft. The French have known this for a century or more.
“What I also need is the benefit of your knowhow, Wanda. After all, you trained as an emergency medical doc, and served time in places where folks tend to die, even with the best of care. To cut to the chase: while there are few if any certainties in this ambiguous, brief existence, I figure there must be a way to prepare for situations I’ll probably face as I near The Overlook. After all, amidst the clutter, probabilities are all we have. It’s a lot like quantum physics with its wave functions and whatnot. What I need to know is whether there is such a thing as a necropad, a mini-mattress woven of absorbent materials, something to be placed beneath the body of a dying person so, should they perish unattended, perhaps after downing quite a few vodka tonics and eating a dozen or more gougeres, the leakage doesn’t ruin the leather couch. If so, do you have any spares?”
Wanda: “I’ve got to go. I smell something burning.”
I sit back and take a major hit of Tito’s. I think: Didn’t Wanda cut short our last several exchanges by saying she had to get ready for a book club meeting? How many book club meetings does this woman attend?
I’m beginning to doubt she belongs to a book club. Has she been taking Ketamine?
Given that the clutter can’t be avoided, and will not be cleared, there remains but one critical consideration: how to slow the ride down the slope, delay arrival at The Overlook?
Friends and family members are keen to offer unsolicited advice. Some advocate a healthy lifestyle — a vegetarian diet, even vegan — some champion lavender scented pillow cases, others plenty of exercise, at least an hour each day. Buy a stationary bike, they tell me, one with a video screen; you can pedal through the Belgian countryside. Maybe a treadmill with a screen, they say, and you can run from Newark to East Orange, and back. Don’t ingest lectins, never consume a member of the nightshade family.
How about frequent chiropractic adjustments? A friend and former news jockey tells me of a Mormon chiropractor who employs a “Cellular Energizer” powered by ten AA batteries, a device guaranteed to keep me mentally alert and “happy as a clam” with four treatments per week. There’s a 10-percent discount on the fee if I sign a six-month contract. The Latter Day bone cracker also employs a foot bath that he promises will remove cancer cells from my body. Feet in the magic bath, waxy sludge emerges from soles of feet, cancer gone! What about that? I could move to Provo, purchase special underwear, and avoid hot drinks.
Meditation? Yoga? Stem cell treatments? Orgone box therapy? Three radium water enemas per day? Rigorous monitoring of the effects of varying meteorological conditions on bodily fluids? Ayahuasca and marriage to a Ecuadoran teenager, gender unimportant?
I have the answer. Finally, the answer.
It’s provided by my daughter as she tells me of debauched doings during her time in Hollywood, in show biz. We sit on the deck. She reminisces.
Late one evening, her car impounded by the LAPD, her confidence shaken, Ivy is taken by a well-known B-grade Hollywood actor friend to a Bel Air residence, an historic structure inhabited by a succession of stars of the silent movie screen during the first few years after the residence is built, each owner selling and moving out when their career tanks.
The home is purchased for the last time in 1924.
By the current owner!
The owner/occupant is a former silent movie “vamp” whose name Ivy refuses to divulge, restrained by a blood oath sworn that night in Bel Air. Ivy is absolutely reliable whenever she swears a blood oath. She feels free to reveal, however, that the former star was best of friends with Colleen Moore, who lived just down the street. A Google search will reward a curious reader with a list of names of cinema luminaries associated with Moore, and with a bit more research the vamp’s identity will be obvious.
“Here’s the thing about the woman,” says Ivy, taking an airline bottle of tequila from her pocket, pouring the contents in a glass, over ice, and adding a splash of lime juice before stirring, and drinking.
“The gal was a huge draw until the talkies arrived on the scene. Her speaking voice was squeaky, every utterance sounding like a 5-year-old practicing the violin. That was that, as far as films went. Miraculously, her singing voice was pure and full. Who woulda guessed? Got any salty snacks anywhere?”
“Don’t get distracted,” I say.
“Well,” she continues, “because of the extraordinary quality of the faded star’s singing voice, she gets plenty of work doing song tracks, singing for tone-deaf talkie divas who lip-synch the tunes on film, doing radio jingles and, eventually, working on TV commercials. Plus, not only does she coach the guy who plays Uncle Remus in Song of the South, helping him perfect his version of Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah, but she has a torrid affair with the guy’s stand-in. The stand-in is reputed to be the best hung stud in all of Southern California, a shtup magnet attracting libidinous characters from all points on the sexual spectrum. The story goes that she wore the guy out. He quit fucking entirely, and lived out his life working as a janitor at a Sikh health spa near Palm Springs. She was voracious.”
“Probably pent-up frustration on her part,” I say. “Think of it: a dazzling film career down the tubes, the sudden absence of the buzz of celebrity, no more flash bulbs going off, a bad table at Café Montmartre. What’s left but frenzied, therapeutic sexual intercourse?”
“Well, that’s not the best part. When I meet her, she’s nearly 130 years old,” says Ivy of the once-great fan favorite.
I am astonished.
“What?” I reply. Loudly.
Ivy pauses to take a sip. Then another.
“Yep, says Ive, “right around one hundred-thirty, which means she’s now close to one hundred forty-five. What with all the surgeries, the first ones back in the late thirties when, as you can imagine, cosmetic surgery was far from an art, she looks like she’s even older than that. She’s probably been ripped and rebuilt twenty or more times, and the botched early jobs are obvious — slipshod work at best, with repulsive results that can’t be remedied. She keeps the house dark, blackout curtains closed at every window. She shuts herself off in interior rooms, her devoted staff members carefully opening doors so as not to admit much outside light whenever they bring her the elixir.”
“The elixir?” I remain stunned. “One hundred-thirty? One hundred forty-five? An elixir?”
“Yep,” says Ivy, “there she is, wobbling into her fourth decade past the century mark, Dad, and I’m in the same room with her. There’s a machine she calls a ‘Victrola’ over in the corner, and she’s listening to Rudy Vallée records while she knocks back a load of elixir. She still has a real thing for Hubert, and Hubert’s been dead for twenty-five years.”
“Rudy’s real name. Even though he was reputed to be a straight-arrow, monogamous family man, she makes it clear she boned him. More than once. Way more than once, and with astonishing vigor. Hubert was up to it, though. No Sikhs and janitor work for him.”
“But, the elixir? What about the elixir?”
“Prepared and delivered by one of the servants. All the staff members are well into their 70s when I visit the mansion, all from an extended family group evacuated from Tristan da Cunha in 1961 when the volcano blew its top. The actress has them hustled from England to Bel Air, tells them the other survivors are captives of British Intelligence and are being used in a series of horrible experiments. Once they serve their purpose, she says, the unlucky da Cunhans are exterminated and buried in an unmarked common grave near Manchester. She regularly reminds the staff members of an awful fate averted due to her loving and charitable act. It works: her servants follow orders, never speak of her to strangers, and rarely leave the grounds of the Bel Air mansion. They’re perfectly content living in what was once the pool house — the pool having been drained in the fifties following a sewage backup — eating surplus government food, and harvesting their fill of the citrus fruits that grow on trees in the yard.”
“The fucking elixir. What is this elixir?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, the old gal throws back a sherry or four, and with Rudy warbling in the background, she dabs at a few festering incisions with cotton balls and lets fly with juicy info. She’s well into her cups, and after my friend and I return from the powder room where we huff up a couple lines of blow to propel us through the rest of the evening, the actress tells us about the elixir. While it can’t restore her brutalized exterior, the elixir keeps her organs, bones, and connective tissues in tip-top condition, the equal to those of a well-nourished eighteen year-old Bulgarian field hand.”
“Yogurt, Dad. Yogurt, with a smattering of fresh herbs. The herbs have no restorative power, so they can be anything from parsley to tarragon. A bit of sugar now and then. A matter of taste, and time of year.”
“Yogurt? Just fucking yogurt? With an herb of choice?”
“Far from it, Dad. Slap together a couple of vodka tonics, and I’ll tell you what I know.”
I’m back in a flash, glasses in hand.
“It’s a thin yogurt made with the milk of a giant bat found only in the deepest reaches of jungle in the Sierra Madre Mountains, in Luzon, in the Phillipines.
“Bat experts were sure that A. jubatus Lucifer was extinct, but no, a colony had been maintained for hundreds of years by members of a small, reclusive tribe. Untold generations of tribal members housed the bats in special, cave-like enclosures, male and female bats kept in separate spaces, the males never allowed out, but kept alive and vigorous with generous portions of the exotic fruits and insects the animals savor, and regular massages. When the time comes, sperm is removed from the males, who reportedly relish the process, and is used to artificially inseminate the larger females, who likewise savor the activity. The females, when not giving birth, are allowed to leave their enclosure during the night. They fly freely through the canopy, feasting on foods that have yet to be discovered, named, classified, and cloned by western pomologists.
“The bat milk and the guano produced by the bats are in high demand and their sale constitutes the foundation of the tribal economy. The bats produce an unbelievable amount of guano and tribe members trade it for tin pots, bright cloth, canned meats, and Japanese Manga porn. The milk goes to more exclusive consumers for a shitload of cash — cash the tribe entrusts to the care of an investment counselor in Geneva, Switzerland. Tribal leaders plan to build a casino once the jungle is destroyed and a highway is built nearby, and they have the pesos to do it.
“The bats are happy in captivity, and the animals are fond of being touched, even fondled by humans. The female bats, with wingspans up to four feet, enjoy being milked long after their single pup makes a go of it on its own. The members of the tribe interact with female bats in teams of three: one person strokes the bat’s head and neck, a second person sings to the bat, and a third gently drains the grotesque beast. It’s said to take up to an hour.
“In 1929, a German chiropterologist is separated from his research party and discovered by members of the tribe, the Nazi-to-be nearly dead from starvation and exposure. Most people are not aware that despite the amazing number of plants and animals that thrive in a Phillipine jungle, it’s easy for an interloper to starve there. The group’s shaman brings the German back to health with a potion containing the bat milk. After the German returns to his homeland, realizing the milk has remarkable medicinal properties, he arranges for regular shipments of the substance to be sent to him in plain packages that won’t attract the attention of ultra-vigilant Weimar customs authorities. It is he who accidentally transforms some of the raw milk into yogurt, and discovers the yogurt’s incredible power. He is close friends with Hermann Goering and puts the fat boy on a regimen in 1944 but, of course, by then it’s a waste of yogurt. The chiropterologist is living today in a cottage near Heidegger’s cabin in the Black Forest in southern Germany. He is said to be at least 155 years old which, if true, would make the old movie star’s age a little less amazing. Speaking of elixirs, can you spare a dropper or so of that stuff your friend Joe makes for you?”
My first thought upon hearing this story?
This is a shitload better than the AARP or a lectin-free diet.
I must find a source for this yogurt!
I’m seated in the cab of a Peterbuilt, attempting to steer the monster as it speeds down a steep mountain pass, a mangled but remarkably vital 145 year-old silent movie star seated next to me, relating a story of the time she cut an uncredited song track for an episode of the original Batman television show — a tune for Julie Newmar. She eats one spoonful after another of miracle yogurt as the truck accelerates, and offers me a hit as we hurtle past the last of the runaway truck ramps. She’s wearing an incredibly strong scent to cover the odor given off by suppurating incisions, but not even an expensive French perfume overcomes the smell of burning brakes.
The truck continues to accelerate, and barely makes the last turn before the approach to the hairpin.
The two of us break into a rendition of Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah as, suddenly, in front of us, unavoidable, the barrier … The Overlook. Her singing voice is beautiful.
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
I’ll marinate hunks of lamb shoulder for several hours in a mix of yogurt, herbs, and garlic, then thread the meat on skewers once I remove most of the marinade and re-season the flesh.
It’s not bat yogurt, but it will do. It will remind me of the task ahead.
I’ll grill the lamb to medium rare over charcoal, along with large wedges of onion and pieces of green and red pepper. I’ll warm homemade pitas on the grill, have chopped lettuce, tomato, and green onion at the ready, along with a hefty amount of freshly made tahini-based sauce.
I’ll uncork my last bottle of Pigeoulet en Provence, and drink the wine as I devour the charred lamb and its vegetable pals.
Kathy won’t eat lamb. She’ll dine on distilled water and rice crackers. She read about the combo in Prevention Magazine.
I’m anxious. I’m isolated. The meal will calm me.
I’m playing host to cancer cells, to unsavory and unpopular thoughts.
The Overlook is just ahead.
There is no bat yogurt available at the market.
Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder.
I check the time. It’s 11 p.m.
I’m sure Wanda is home following her book club meeting, so I text her.
“I have a question that must be answered promptly,” I write. “As in Stat!
“Wanda, our relationship has gone far beyond patient/provider. I always speak freely with you, and you do the same with me. Play it straight with me, this is a Code Blue situation, more important than finding a necropad, a crisis not even the AARP can handle!
“I was raised by and around people in your trade, so I know that once a physician completes her residency, she is then privileged to receive information about stunning developments in medicine — cutting-edge treatments, drugs, etc., some experimental, some of the drugs in the clinical trial stages. She knows about substances and procedures long kept under wraps for political and/or financial reasons. She is privy to information not suitable for dissemination to the riffraff she tends during Medicare-funded wellness checks. Not even Soros and the Illuminati have heard of this stuff.
“She is also aware of the results of radical experiments being conducted by scientists in lab coats, tests performed on elements and folk remedies obtained from a variety of sources — anthropologists, oil company field operatives, old hippies who stray into the rain forest and eat an odd mushroom, “alternative healers” who inadvertently stumble on to something that actually works.”
I black out, and unintentionally hit the Send command with my forehead.
Wanda responds late the next afternoon.
“For god’s sake, what now? Do not mention ketamine.”
“Did you read what I sent last night, the bits about secret info?
She replies “What the hell are you after this time?”
“Milk from a giant bat that lives deep in a jungle in the Philippines, a bat that was long believed to be extinct. I plan to make yogurt, and live forever.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Aha, I think, this woman is clever. She plays dumb, and in doing so acknowledges my claim without offering up a clearly stated admission. There is no contemporary communication system that is safe from malicious hackers. She and I know this.
In pretending ignorance, Wanda leaves no evidence that can indicate traitorous behavior on her part. There’ll be no sanctions imposed by the Esoteric Medicine Society. The group exists; my father kept a society certificate of merit in his desk drawer. I saw it once when I was 14 and searching for samples of Dexamyl.
Wanda knows the bat milk is available, and she knows where to get it.
The milk will be mine.
She signs off before I can pursue the matter.
I will text her tomorrow, after she attends another book club meeting.
In the meantime, I’ll go online and research the art of making yogurt.
A great burden will soon be lifted from my shoulders.
It’s the truth, it’s actch’ll
Everything is satisfactch’ll
OK, some of you netadepts Googled The Decameron and found that the word, “decameron,” indicates a period of ten days.
OK, so you look at the number of entries above, and you find 20.
That’s more than 10, you say, remembering my one-per-day promise (with days off for work and contemplation).
You’re fucking brilliant.
I claimed I’d be faithful to the structure of Boccaccio’s original, but why would you trust me? I’m an elderly skeptic, utterly untrustworthy, mentally unhinged as he deals in isolation with terrifying velocity and clutter.
Can you trust someone who indulges in hijinks with Kimberly Guilfoyle while Donnie and Jerry watch? Someone seeking to purchase several quarts of bat milk?
So, I doubled up on the decameron. So what? If you read this far, it filled some time. You can thank me later.
I leave tomorrow to drive to Oregon, to see my sister and her husband. My sister and Kathy browbeat me relentlessly, and I capitulated.
I might make it back to Siberia With a View if we don’t encounter a hairpin turn, and The Overlook.
I expect to find a load of bat milk in a styrofoam box waiting for me on the front porch when I return.
I’ll let you know how the yogurt project goes.
I promise I’ll tell your great-grandchildren, and their children, about the Covid quarantine that drove everyone crazy, way back in the day when tribes clashed, psychopaths were elected to the nation’s highest office, and Best Buys were looted by privileged white kids. I’ll show them some naughty photos of Kimberley Guilfoyle, then lead them on a trek to a nearby hilltop where we’ll watch the sky to the north as Yellowstone erupts.