I’m in town, on a rare trek away from the basement.
I visit familiar routes, and I meet several people I know as I stroll. Following a brief conversation, each person says the same thing as we part: “Hey, you’re looking good!”
At my age, this remark indicates I’m clearly teetering on The Precipice, soon to take The Big Dive.
What the commentator likely wants to say is: “Hey, you’re fatter, grayer, slower, and seem more addled than the last time I saw you. Perhaps we’ll meet again but, if not, rest in peace.”
My trek follows a plan.
First, stroll. I’m vaccinated, the pandemic fear sweat has evaporated, and it’s good to get out and polish what’s left of my skills as a boulevardier.
Second, I go to the hardware store and purchase three screws and ten small brass washers. There is a window latch at the house that needs repair. I will be unable to do this, but the fact I obtain screws and washers signals that I mean well.
I make a stop at the grocery store to buy a can of unsweetened coconut milk. A turkey meatball curry is on the menu this evening.
Finally, I meet some folks at lunch.
I mangle a smothered burrito at a local cafe and, between bites, I relate a story about a guy I knew when I was a kid.
The story breaks the surface of the brain muck when I spot a guy with a big head. A very big head.
I step up with the story to provide a bit of entertainment, since no one else at the table has anything interesting to say. Lunch without entertainment is best taken at home, alone.
The story begins: “Hey, check out that guy seated two booths down, the fellow with the huge head. He reminds me of…”
My story, my unwoke errors, the reaction:
My childhood friend’s name is Bradley. His parents own and operate a shop in Denver, located several blocks from my parents’ house.
Brad’s old man is a watch repairman and, until the digital tsunami obliterates the cabana, things go well for him. Nearly every gainfully employed adult in the 50s and 60s wears a wristwatch and, since most of the devices are cheap crap and malfunction (pardon me) like clockwork, Brad’s dad is feeding in the tall grass, with enough business to keep him at the bench six days a week. Once the digital watch dominates the scene, Brad’s dad turns to small appliance repair, in-home service available. He gets by until he’s eligible to receive a monthly check from Social Security. With that income secure, he becomes an inveterate gambler, with an unwise interest in greyhound racing.
Brad and I go to school together, from third to tenth grade. We’re members of Cub Scout Pack 10. We are the last two guys selected during pick-up softball games at school — Brad because of his height, me due to my severe myopia, profound lassitude, and considerable girth.
I pause in the telling, send my compliments to the cook for her better-than-average green chile, then move to the meat of the story, where I identify Bradley as “a midget.” I quickly discover this is unacceptable in some quarters.
A fellow diner stops me, an expression of shock on her mug, one that transitions quickly to studied concern.
This woman self-identifies as “a progressive,” so she is adept at recognizing a faux pas then registering shock, dismay, and disgust. She’s a fervid culture warrior who conducts her crusades from the comfort of a four-bedroom, three-bath, 3,000 square foot home, smug and satisfied, sensitive and sincere. She earned a degree in psychology, and has two stickers — Sanders for President, and I Stand With AOC — plastered on the tailgate of her Lexus SUV. She’s the complete package.
“What did you say?,” she asks, once she is able to swallow, unknot her brow, and gain her bearings. She sets a half-eaten chicken tostada on her plate and stares at me, waiting for an acceptable reply. There is a glob of salsa on her blouse just below the top button. The blouse is light green in color, so the red salsa vibrates ever so slightly. Wilhelm Ostwald would be thrilled.
“Well,” I reply, “I was saying that Brad was a midget, and I was about to tell you that both his parents were midgets, and that Brad was…”
“No, no! Stop right there,” she demands as she shuts her eyes tight and presses the back of her hand to her forehead as if to stop a leak. “Dear god, this is so offensive. What are you doing? You said ‘midget.’ Stop!”
I respond. “What do you mean ‘offensive’? Why is it offensive? You’re not a midget.”
“Oh, my god,” she says, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” I notice her fingernails are ragged, bitten, the polish chipped. She had braces put on her teeth when she was 45 years old. Following the recent removal of the braces, her dental array is spectacular whenever she smiles, or snarls.
“Well, let me finish,” I say. “I haven’t made it to the good part yet, where I tell you about what a stud Brad was, and how he managed to bang two high school cheerleaders in one night during a kegger out east of the city. Two! A midget! Two in one night!”
“Oh, my god!,” she says.
I continue. “The little shit had a 1960 Dodge A100 van with big wood blocks on the clutch, gas, and brake pedals. He carpeted the back of the van — mauve shag on floor, walls, and roof — and installed a sound system and special lighting. It was rumored that Brad’s shortcomings in the height department — if you’ll allow me to say that — were more than compensated for by longcomings in other areas. Brad was a legend after that night, especially among the cheerleaders, a hero of mine to boot, and…”
“Stop,” she says, affecting a new facial expression, this one indicating extreme exasperation that morphs quickly to disdain. “How dare you call a Little Person ‘a midget’? That is so offensive it makes me sick to hear it. No, no, I’m not sick…I’m furious!”
“Well,” I say, “despite the fact you’re not a midget and you’re furious, you’re correct to question the use of the term. I remember now that Brad set me straight one day. Brad, our pal Jizz, and I were chugging quarts of Coors 3.2, smoking a nickel of shake, and listening to Brad’s transistor radio. His favorite song was Gravy For My Mashed Potato, by Dee Dee Sharp. The teensy goof could dance like nobody’s business. Mashed Potato? You bet. The Pony? The Swim? Yep. He was a diminutive dancin’ machine.
“Brad and Donna, his cheerleader fuckbuddy of the moment, cleared the floor at the Sophomore Fall Dance with a Mashed Potato performance that was never equalled. I’m telling you, Brad was a stud, a dinky, light-footed stud.
“We skipped school after lunch hour and hunkered down on Monkey Island in Washington Park. Back then, the island was connected to the shore of the south lake by a bridge and sported a grove of Dutch elms and dense, bushy undergrowth. We hid on the far side of the tangle and got blitzed, out of sight of the malevolent assistant principal whose job it was to corral truant miscreants. Every now and then, what with the quarts of 3.2, we’d have to take a leak into the lake. The rumors about Brad’s package were spot on.
“‘Get it straight, asshole: I’m no midget,’ Brad says as he coils the anaconda in its den, and zips up. ‘Midgets are just people who are too short. I’m a dwarf. I bring more to the party than any fucking midget. It’d be embarrassing to just be too short.’”
“At this point, Brad begins to discuss his sexual adventures at the kegger, including detailed descriptions of the anatomy of his love interests, and mention of why a sophisticated lighting and sound system is key to success in the bang biz. Jizz gets worked up and adjourns to the underbrush. He’s back in a flash, flushed, relieved, eager to hear more about cheerleader genitalia. His recuperative powers are remarkable.
“‘Well,’” Brad says, tipping back another quart and taking a massive hit off a poorly rolled joint, ‘it doesn’t hurt to bring some muscle to the tussle, if you get what I mean.’ Having watched Brad take a leak in the lake, I know just what he means.”
My dining companion groans and slams her palms on the tabletop. “That’s so demeaning, so hurtful.”
She begins to tear up. Weeping is de rigueur for an Anglo empath/culture warrior.
I’m tempted to tell her to relax and find pleasure in the beauty of a well-made tostada, to be content with fighting her own battles, to stick to tackling social issues with yard signs in an upscale gated community, and fighting injustice by reposting simplistic memes. Everyone I know who has a legit social/racial/economic bone to pick is capable of articulating their feelings, fears, aspirations, frustrations, anger, without a sanctimonious, coddled white person doing it for them.
“That’s utterly disgusting,” she says. “How do you live with yourself? Your friend was right saying he was a dwarf, not a midget. But, of course, even that word is insulting if it’s used by someone who is not height challenged.”
“You’re not a dwarf,” I say, “so how would you know?”
“The correct term is ‘Little Person,’ she says, “or, better yet, ‘Person of Short Stature.’”
Another misstep on my part:
“Well, if you’re right,” I reply, “we have a problem, since when you mouse to any popular porn aggregator — xHamster, PornHub, Lobstertube, whichever you prefer — there’s a Midget category, chock full of frantic, fluid-rich video action. And therein you discover such luminaries as Bridget the Midget, Twidget the Midget, Gidget the Midget, Larry the Afromidge, AKA the Chocolate Hammer, and others.
“I’m pretty sure if you start an online campaign to shame Bridget into changing her stage name to Bridget the Dwarf, she’ll resist the move. Same with Twidget and Gidget. For god’s sake, these gals have ridden the rhyme to riches, or at least to enough cash to cover the rent for a couple of months.”
“She?,” asks my lunch companion. “Are you sure that’s the correct pronoun?.” A blob of guacamole joins the salsa on her blouse. The guac is a darker green in color than the blouse so it, too, stands out. The red salsa continues to vibrate.
She smiles knowingly, a six-years-of-college smile. “Are you sure it’s not they-them, rather than she-her?”
I realize an unbridgeable gulf exists between us. In fact, we live on different planets. She practices pronoun etiquette designed to mollify less than one-tenth of one percent of the population — narcissists who demand to control how everyone speaks — while I concentrate on the cash value of the word “midget” in the porn world.
I choose, in this instance, to roll on the capitalist track; there’s serious revenue hitched to “midget.” Any Neoliberal in his, her, or their right mind understands the potential for economic gain in this situation, given the situation remains unregulated. I’m not a Neoliberal, but I have Neos as friends and I’m sure they’ll confirm my claim.
Would a Neoliberal lie?
I finish my burrito and bid the sludge-spattered virtue monger adieu. She turns to stare out the window and waggles a limp hand in the air, like Queen Victoria dismissing an incompetent tradesman.
A somewhat related lane change:
The next day, I gnaw on a fried chicken sandwich, “spicy,” with extra Fun Sauce, purchased at a food truck owned by my friends Taylor and Elizabeth.
When I order at the truck window, Taylor asks, “Are you hungry?”
“Of course,” I answer, “I’m always hungry.”
The sandwich is huge. I’m three vodka tonics into the lunch hour, primed for excess, so when the food is delivered the challenge is accepted and met with enthusiasm.
Ivy is with me. She chows down on a double cheeseburger with extra cheese. She’s on a low carb regimen, so she eschews the bun. She’s also abstaining from alcohol, so she’s upped her cannabis intake and she is captivated by the patterns formed by melted dairy products.
She has her French bulldog, Juanito, with her, and he scurries around the grounds, eagerly consuming discarded French fries as Ivy and I eat and chat.
I tell Ivy about the ultra-lib’s reaction to the midget story.
“If you ask me,” she says, “there’s too many pure people out there these days, most of them hypocrites, always minding someone else’s business. I blame it on Facebook and that dweeb Zuckerberg, and adjunct university instructors eager to build a fan base. Damn, look at this: Taylor loaded my burger with cheese. Cheddar, Swiss…what’s this?…asiago?… is this asiago? Check it out: the stuff flows like lava when it melts. Look at the patterns! Where’s the dog?”
Juanito is hunkered down beneath a nearby table, French fry in mouth, taking a dump next to the sandal-clad foot of a tourist from Texas. The woman wears a MAGA hat, has a jeweled ring on her little toe, and her sandal straps sport small bouquets of gaudy plastic flowers. Juanito delivers a remarkable payload, considering his size.
A few days before, a powerful dust devil lifted the large tent that covered the seating area in front of the food truck and sent the shredded canvas to a spot next to the mighty San Juan, a half mile east. As a result, Ivy and I sit under a harsh noonday sun.
Ivy looks up from the cheese-on-beef psychedelic extravaganza, tilts her head, and squints.
“Wow, Dad, you are really white. I mean, looking at you in broad daylight, I gotta say you are the ultimate white person. So, it seems you have something in common with yesterday’s critic.”
“You mean to say I’m a Person of Scant Color, don’t you?,” I reply. “Be careful how you speak of me, I’m easily triggered.”
“I mean you are really fucking white. One click this side of albino. You’ve got bigger problems than being a social, political, and cultural pinhead who irritates Libsimps at lunch. You’re ultimate, paternalistic, colonialist oppressor white, and you’re a Boomer to boot. You’re the poster boy for everything that’s wrong with the world. Sit still, I need to look at you. Yep, super white, and old. Wow.”
She takes her phone from her pocket. “I need to snap a pic. You are so white, my friends gotta see this. I’ll post the photo on Instagram and Twitter. This could go viral. I need to figure out how to monetize it.”
“No surprise that I’m a bit pale,” I say, “since I stay in the basement most of the time. It’s comfortable down there, you know — no above-ground irritants to deal with.”
“Well, when you die,” says my daughter, “I’m going to have to do something about this before the viewing.”
“Whoa, Nellie,” I reply. “I left instructions stating I’m to be torched, reduced to powder and little fragments of bone.”
“Easy, big fella,” she responds, “you’ll be cremated, but it’ll be a lot of fun to let people see your body and make smart-ass comments about you before flesh meets flame. You owe it to them, considering the things you’ve done and said over the years. And, remember, if you don’t like it, there isn’t a whole lot you’ll be able to do about it.”
I interrupt. “Don’t forget the special memorial dinner. Remember, I left detailed instructions for the event, with recipes that include my sifted ashes as an ingredient.”
“Yeah,” she says, “I promise we’ll incinerate you, sift you, eat you, box up what’s left after the feed, and scatter the debris. But, first, we need to have some fun at your expense. You can’t make your final appearance being this white; your grandchildren couldn’t live it down. I’ll lay in a big supply of spray tan to spruce up your remains before you go on display prior to your trip to the oven. I can find the spray on Amazon, maybe get a deal on some stuff that’s past its sell-by date.”
“No spray tan,” I say. “If you’re going to tint me, I want my body taken to a tanning salon directly from the site of death, or from the medical examiner’s facility should I expire unattended and an autopsy is required. I’m pretty sure melanogenesis can occur for a short while following the Ultimo Blackout. If you upgrade my shade, do it right.”
“You need to pay attention to where you die,” she says. “Think about what would happen if you conk out in your studio and no one notices you’re missing. That would be a mess, wouldn’t it? Mom never goes into your studio, and she gets so involved with playing reggae tunes and Bach on the piano and eating yogurt, dried fruits, and probiotics, she won’t realize you’re dead until the odor makes it obvious. That could be a couple of days, considering her sense of smell has gone south. If that happens, any plan for a viewing is out of the question. Very few people want to examine liquids and goo.”
“I’ll try to die where I’ll be found,” I say. “In the meantime have Jon start to work designing and building a corpse rotisserie that extends the length of a plus-size tanning bed. I figure a five-horsepower motor should do the trick, given that I’m somewhat large. I realize there’s a considerable expense involved. Maybe you can start a Go Fund Me campaign, and get a running start on the process.
“When it’s Go Time, skewer my corpse on a sturdy steel rod, then hoist me into place so the motor slowly rotates my remains inside the booth, guaranteeing even exposure. I’ll look like a plump George Hamilton, with man tits. I think viewers at the memorial will be impressed.”
“Yeah, Hamilton tan, that’s the ticket.,” she replies. “I remember how George looked when I spent time with him on his yacht during the Cannes Film Festival. Nice guy. Nut brown. That was his color; it’s the perfect color for you.
“And I agree, Dad, hefty is desirable,” she continues. “The more surface area, the better. So, besides dying where you’ll be found — I recommend you collapse at the liquor store, where everyone on the staff knows you — you need to make sure you don’t succumb to some sort of wasting disease. I know you have cancer, and it often peels off the pounds, so keep overeating as long as you can. If you retain your bulk, and we give you a full-body hot wax before you’re put in the tanning bed, you’ll look like the best-ever Thanksgiving turkey, bronzed and toasty. We’ll lay you out dressed in nothing but a silvery Speedo, so viewers get the max experience.
“I won’t be surprised when some of the people who see you break down and lose their composure,” she says, “not because they’ll miss you, or have fond memories of the few good times they had with you, but due to the envy they experience when they glimpse your gorgeous skin tone. There’ll be lot of skin to glimpse and admire.”
“This sounds good to me,” I say, a bit of Fun Sauce falling from my sandwich on to Juanito, who is scavenging for scraps beneath my seat.
The woman at the next table stands and steps in Juanito’s still warm gift. She shrieks as the poop oozes between her toes and pollutes her bouquet — a Texas shriek, loud, with an accent.
I attempt to imitate my progressive friend’s expression indicating deep concern.
“My only worry,” I say, “is that, with my luxurious brown color, I’ll be accused in absentia of cultural appropriation. There’s sure to be some hyperwokes at the event. This won’t sit well with them, and they’re liable to cause a fuss and shatter the reverential mood.”
“Fuck ‘em,” says Ivy, her gaze again fixed on her food. “It’s not like you’ll be wearing a sombrero or a dashiki.”
“When I’m gone, you’ll find a couple hundred eight-by-ten canvases in my studio storage room,” I tell her. “Bring a stack of them to the memorial. If someone says ‘You’re looking good’ when they see my roasted remains, give them a painting. A parting gift, if you will, from their nut brown friend.”
“For sure,” she says.
“This is definitely asiago.”